Ticks are arachnids parasites of many species of animals including humans, wildlilfe, livestock, pet dogs, cats, reptiles and small mammals. Ticks are very efficient carriers of many diseases because they can transmit disease in 3 out of 4 stages of their life cycle and the fact that their life cycle can take as little as 2 months or as long as 3 yrs to complete. Many species of ticks can survive long periods without a host to feed upon and are resistant to cold and arid conditions thereby surviving harsh winter conditions only to become active and spread disease the next spring. They may go unnoticed for a considerable time while sucking blood for several days to complete feeding, all the while transmitting various rickettsial, bacterial and protozoan diseases to their host.
Ticks have four life stages. 1. egg 2. larva (seed tick) 3. nymph 4. adult . They are capable of transmitting disease in all but the egg stage. Both male and female ticks feed on the host. After feeding and laying her eggs in protected habitats on the ground the female tick will die. The egg hatches and the larva then molts to the nymph which then feeds and molts into an even larger adult.
Ticks ambush their host from tips of grasses and tall brush and shrubs and are therefore more common around fields, pastures and underbrush along streams. They are less common in urban areas or tall hardwood forests. The exceptions seem to be pine trees.
There are several species of ticks in the mountains of WNC. These are the American Dog Tick, the Deer tick (also referred to as the black legged tick), the brown dog tick and a new species which just recently appeared in North Carolina, the Lone Star Tick. Although the deer tick is often referred to as the primary vector of Lyme disease all species of ticks have potential to transmit Lyme and other diseases from reservoir animals ( rodents, birds) to their hosts. The white footed mouse a common reservoir for Lyme disease is found in WNC. Numerous other diseases are known to be transmitted by ticks including Anaplasmosis, Erhlichia, Lyme, Bartonella, Rickettsia ( Rocky Mountain spotted fever), Mycoplasma and Cytauxzoon ( an emerging fatal disease in cats in North Carolina). These diseases can be subtle and chronic mimicking symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia or they can be very acute and often fatal like spotted fever or cytauzoonosis. The fact that many of these diseases not only infect our pets but can infect humans is cause for concern. Just the bite of one tick could be indicative of potential exposure to not just one but to multiple agents of disease.
The easiest method of tick control is prevention using some of the excellent parasiticides that are available today. Many topical products usually containing fipronyl or permethrin are available over the counter. Permethrin is toxic to cats! Similarly some collars for ticks are effective. However the most effective products are all in a newer class of oral and topical products for both ticks and fleas that are prescription products requiring and annual exam at a veterinarian for purchase. These oral products are vastly more effective and also have less potential for human exposure to chemicals. The use of these products during tick season also tends to kill the flea population back before the exponential growth of fleas occurs during the summer.
If you find a tick on your pet use blunt tweezers or gloves to handle the tick or at minimum grasp the tick with tissue or paper towels. This is to prevent infectious agents from entering your system through cuts or mucous membranes. Pull the tick straight out with a firm steady traction. After removing the tick wash the bite area then wash your hands with soap and water. A jar of rubbing alcohol is a handy way of disposing of ticks. It may be wise to journal the place and time that the tick was found for a medical reference just in case any symptoms occur later.