If you’re a pet-owner in Australia, odds are you’ve already heard some nasty stories about the damage ticks can do.We’ve put together a quick guide of frequently asked questions about ticks. Research shows that many of us aren’t fully aware when it comes to the basics: where ticks are found, how to treat them and how to prevent them. This knowledge could save a life, and according to Pet MD, most dogs and some cats will experience at least one tick in their lifetime.
What are ticks?
Ticks are tiny, blood-feeding parasites. They’re part of the Arachnid family, which means they’re closely related to spiders, scorpions and other creepy-crawlies. While there are over 70 different species found in Australia, only some have been known to cause lasting harm or death in dogs and cats.
Here’s a look at three of the most common species:
Brown Dog Ticks – Characterised by flat, brown appearance with a reddish tinge, they can be easily spotted because they grow to over a centimetre in length. Less likely to cause serious ongoing harm or disease, these guys can still cause a fair amount of skin irritation and discomfort in pets.
Bush Ticks – slightly different in appearance from the Brown Dog Tick, they have finer legs and shorter mouths. Bush Ticks are often found on pets’ bodies in clusters, which could cause blood loss or anaemia if untreated over a long time, but unlikely any serious harm.
Paralysis Ticks – these are the most important ones to look out for. As the name suggests, they can cause paralysis and eventually death if left to feed on the body long enough. This occurs because they have a special toxin present in their saliva, which first affects the nerves, then the joints, muscles, and eventually the vital organs. Thankfully they look very different to the other kinds of ticks, making them easier to spot from the bunch: they’re typically light grey as apposed to brown and their legs are usually much closer to the front of their body.
How does a tick find my pet?
Ticks can detect smells, shadows and breath from far away making it easy for them to find a host. When they sense them approaching, the tick latches and burrows into the flesh, inserting a feeding tube into the blood stream. To make matters worse, most dogs, cats and humans don’t feel a tick physically bite into them because they carry special anaesthetic substances in their saliva.
When are they most common?
Thriving in hot and humid climates, ticks are active all year round in Australia, especially closer to the tropics. They are most common from September through to May, because they tend to follow a seasonable birth cycle – they lay eggs during autumn, grow during winter and reach peak adulthood during spring and summer, making them more likely to feed.
Where do ticks live?
Ticks are most common along the eastern seaboard of Australia, especially in dense bushy climates with long grass – but they’ve been found in all sorts of places, from indoor plants to dog kennels or even school shoes. That’s why it’s never safe to assume your pet is safe from a tick!
How do I remove them?
Use a pair of pointy tweezers to grasp the tick’s head closest to your pet’s skin, and then slowly pull upward until the tick is out.
Note: it’s important not to twist or jerk to ensure you don’t leave parts of the tick inside the skin.
After removal, clean the area of the bite as well as your hands. Put the tick in a sealable plastic bag that you can save to identify the species if your pet later becomes ill.
How can I keep my pet safe?
Prevention is the easiest way to manage ticks, and thankfully, there are many ways of doing so. Here are three tried and tested methods:
- Check your pet regularly – especially in tick season or after they have had contact with bushland. Pay the closest attention to the mouth, neck and front legs, as these are the most common places for them to feed. Check carefully! They’ve been known to hide under the collar, elbows, tails or groin, making them hard to spot.
- Know the symptoms of tick paralysis:
- Trouble breathing
- Weakness of the hind limbs
- Loss of muscular function (in the advanced stage)
If your cat or dog is showing any of the above signs, take them to the vet as immediately – even if you cant physically find the tick.
- Use a tick repellent product. These can be highly effective, either killing or repelling ticks at the source. There are hundreds on the market and come in a variety of forms – from an attachable collar to an ointment, spray and even in pill-form. Consult your vet to discuss the best option for your pet.