Ticks: what's the big deal?


March is a tricky month, isn’t it? In many parts of the United States people are experiencing the last snow storms Winter has to offer while others are beginning to see glimpses of Spring. As far as our pets are concerned, this is the time of year their exposure to ectoparasites (ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes) begins to really become a threat.  Many pet parents choose to discontinue their monthly flea and tick prevention during the winter months as they do not feel the exposure really exists, while others continue to treat their animals every month.  I want to discuss the importance of preventing ectoparasites in our animals – specifically ticks – because they pose a threat not only to the health of our pets, but also to us!


Image courtesy of www.cdc.gov

Image courtesy of www.cdc.gov


The tick life cycle

To be able to understand their threat to our animals, it is important to see how these parasites live and survive.  Ticks have 4 life stages: Egg, Larva, Nymph, and Adult.  The adult tick feeds on a host (such as your dog or cat) and then mates. The female adult tick produces thousands of eggs.  The larva hatches from the egg, often called a ‘seed tick’ this life stage also feeds on a host.  The larva molts into the nymph stage, which again, feeds on a host and molts again into an adult.  So, 3 times during a single tick’s life it has the ability to feed on your pet!  Some species of ticks can live years without a meal from a host, and most will become active in Winter if the temperature is above 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit.  The larva and nymph ticks are very tiny making them extremely difficult to see, and even more challenging to remove. 


An engorged tick embedded in a canine during the month of January in Virginia.

An engorged tick embedded in a canine during the month of January in Virginia.


Disease transmission

Although ticks are nasty little creatures, the diseases they transmit are the actual problem.  Ticks carry many diseases threatening our life as well as the lives of our pets.  Diseases like Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Cytauxzoonosis, Babesiosis, and the list goes on.  The challenging aspect of tick-borne disease is that it can be difficult to diagnose – especially in humans!  If a disease such as Lyme disease goes undiagnosed, that person is going to suffer from chronic illness for the rest of their life. 




Here I go again – prevention!  There are many products available to protect our pets from ticks and other parasites: topicals, collars, chewables, sprays, but which one is right for you?  Chewable tick prevention has been nice for many pet parents; however, the tick has to bite your pet to become exposed to the drug and hopefully it will die before it can transmit disease.  When looking at topical preventions, some products contain a repellent.  Repellency is important to discourage ticks (and fleas, and mosquitoes) from climbing onto your pet.  It also creates an unfavorable environment for the parasite.  If your dog is protected with a repellent, it will likely decrease you and your family’s chance of being exposed to ticks (and their diseases).


I have 3 dogs, and all of them are protected from ectoparasites every month with a topical preventative containing imidacloprid, permethrin, and pyriproxyfen to kill and repel ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes.  Talk with your veterinarian about the exposure risk to your pets and your family.  Your veterinarian can help you decide which preventative is best for your pet!

Leigh Hofmeister, DVM, Blog Signature – Leigh Hofmeister, DVM

Leigh Hofmeister