Walking The Dog – Watch Out For Ticks

Ticks spread to ever wider habitats. They pose a risk to hikers, hunters, and nature goers. But not only people get bitten by ticks. Our pets are also at risk of tick bites. And there is no need to venture far out, many of the ticks found in North America have spread to cities where they lurk in the parks, and even in our gardens.

This greatly increases the risk of tick bites. Even more though, due to the changing climate and higher average temperatures, ticks can ins some areas now be active all year round.

The bad thing about ticks is that they may transmit nasty diseases like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and many more.

What Are Ticks?

Ticks are not insects but belong to the order of the mites (Acari). In simple words, they are spiders as one can see on their eight legs. Ticks are parasitic arachnids that live as ectoparasites on the skin or in the fur of vertebrates and feed on the blood from their hosts. Worldwide there are over 900 different types of ticks. Different species are found on all continents and in all climatic zones, except in the artic.

Why Are There More Ticks Now Than Before?

There are probably many reasons for this, but one of the reasons is likely the man-made climate change and our impact on changing entire ecosystems.

As a result of increasing global average temperatures, spring starts earlier than usual, winter starts later too and is also milder. A few years ago, ticks were mainly active between April to September.

But most ticks become active when the average temperature rises above 44 Fahrenheit (8 ° Celsius). Thanks to climate change and the resulting milder winters and the earlier warm spring, ticks have a much longer period of time to be active and spread.

In view of all of this, it is understandable that tick protection is becoming increasingly important. And not only personal tick protection is becoming ever more important, but the same goes for our pets.

For people who are outdoors a lot, tick repellent clothing, as well as the use of effective tick repellents, is highly recommended.

Our pets such as dogs and cats should also be protected from ticks and fleas, they too can be infected by many tick-borne diseases. Spot-on products or protective collars have proven practical and reliable.

Do Ticks Fall From Trees?

Widespread is the persistent myth that ticks climb trees and drop onto their victims from above. But that’s not correct.

Most ticks crawl up on blades of grass and low shrubs, barely more than a foot or two high. There they wait with outstretched front legs and wait (questing) until a suitable host comes by.

How Do Ticks Find Their A Victim?

Ticks have an olfactory organ on their front legs, the so-called Haller organ. With it, they can smell and quickly recognize a potential victim. The Haller organ consists of receptors located on the front pair of legs. This enables the tick to sense metabolic products such as carbon dioxide, lactic acid, butyric acid, which are expelled through the host’s breath and skin.

So a tick sits with outstretched front legs and waits, ready to hold on to a host passing by. When the tick has successfully transferred to a host, it does not necessarily bite immediately. It looks for a suitable bite site that is protected and where the skin is a bit thin, so it gets to the blood vessels more easily. For a host with fur, this search can be successful after just a few minutes. It takes longer in a human victim, after all, the tick has to crawl over clothing until it finds bare skin. This can take a couple of hours.

As you can see, you have some time. Make it a rule that if you’ve been to an area known for ticks to thoroughly check your clothes and body for those nasty little parasites. Regular checks of the fur of your pet are essential too. You can greatly reduce the risk of getting bitten if you’re lucky and find the tick before it bites you.

How Do I Remove A Tick Correctly?

If you find a tick that has already bitten and is lodged in the skin, you should remove it as quickly as possible. The earlier you remove the tick, the lower the risk of dangerous pathogens being transmitted.

Proper removal is important. Do not resort to odd myths such as burning the tick, putting oil on it, or glue, etc. When the tick is stressed in its agony, it will likely empty all its intestinal contents with all the bad stuff into the wound. You really don’t want that.

Correct removal means: pulling the tick out with a tick removal tool without squeezing it. You can use tick tweezers, a tick hook, a tick key, or a similar special tick removal tool.

It is important that the tick is not squeezed and that it is pulled out completely without breaking. Should something break off, it is not the head but only part of the Hypostome (mouthpart). This is not anything serious yet, as this small foreign object will be repelled from the body.

In any case, it is important to observe the small wound. If there are changes or inflammations, you should consult a doctor.

How To Prevent Tick Bite?

The best protection would be to avoid areas known to be tick-infested. Of course, this is unrealistic and hardly feasible.

Whenever you go outside, you can come home with a tick. And If you are out in nature a lot and like to roam forests and meadows, or if you are an avid hiker, you are even more at risk of getting a tick.

As a precaution, you should wear long clothes and pull your socks over your trouser legs. Light-colored clothing is preferable to darker-colored clothing, as ticks are easier to spot on them.

There is also special tick-repellent clothing that is treated with a biocide. Most commonly used is permethrin, a highly effective substance that is effective against ticks and other blood-sucking parasites such as mosquitoes and sand flies.

The use of topically applied insect repellent is also highly recommended for further protection. Highly effective are synthetic repellents containing DEET or picaridin. If you are afraid of the possible side effects of these products, you might want to resort to the use of natural alternatives based on plant extracts.

In dogs, spot-on products or anti-tick collars have proven effective, they protect effectively against many blood-sucking parasites.

But unfortunately, no matter what products you use, there is no 100% protection against ticks. If you spend time outside in areas where ticks are common, you should check your whole body for ticks at the end of the day. Also, do not forget to regularly check your pets for ticks and protect them from infestation with the help of special pet tick repellents.

References:

Climate change, biodiversity, ticks, and tick-borne disease
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213224415300067

Prevalence and distribution of tick bite and exposure to tick-borne diseases in the United States
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6042714/

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