Ectoparasites Part 1: Ticks!
What is an Ectoparasite?
An ectoparasite is a parasite that lives on the outside of its host. The most common ectoparasites we see in a grooming salon are ticks, lice and fleas!
It's only fitting that I am writing on this subject after I pulled my first tick of the season off of a dog's thigh earlier this week. We are in full tick season here in Colorado! This will be a three-part blog series covering key facts of each of these common ectoparasites, best practices to avoid them, and what to do if you experience them first-hand.
First up.. TICKS
The most common ticks we see in Colorado are the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick, although in the eastern planes you'll come across the American Dog Tick. Springtime is when the ticks are out in full force searching for their next host before they go dormant with the warmer weather in summer. However, since we Coloradans love camping and outdoor in our gorgeous mountains, keep in mind we continue to have cooler temperatures throughout the summer in the mountain areas. They may be present all summer long depending on where you're spending time!
Ticks have a four-stage and three-host life cycle, meaning they typically latch on to a different host for each life stage after the egg stage.
In dogs we mostly see the nymph stage tick, an adult tick will prefer a much larger host such as deer or humans. Ticks in Colorado usually require two to three years to complete their life cycle. Nymphs and adults may survive as long as a year without feeding. Ticks become engorged and resemble a lima bean after they feed.
Now for some great news. According to a publication by Colorado State University, the most important tick-borne disease in north America, Lyme disease, is not present in the wild animal population of Colorado. There has never been a confirmed case of Lyme disease originating from a tick-bite in Colorado. There are a small number of cases of Coloradoans that have been diagnosed as having Lyme disease but all of these are thought to have originated from exposure to infected ticks in states where this disease is present.
How can we avoid ticks?
To truly answer this question, it's important that we gain an understanding of how ticks find their hosts. Ticks are mobile, but limited, they find their hosts by perching on the edge of brush and as they sense the warmth and carbon dioxide breathed out by their host they reach their front legs forward, ready to catch a ride. They will be located where their hosts often travel such as brushy edges of fields and along paths in wooded and shrubland areas.
During tick season, avoid allowing your dog to romp through the fields, and when walking on paths in wooded and shrubland areas, stick to the center! Since humans can also get
ticks, it's smart to cover your skin in areas that may come in contact with a hitchhiking tick such as
socks over pant legs when in heavily wooded areas.
ICK! My dog has a tick!!
Ticks don't just happen in the mountains or heavily wooded areas; they very well could be in your own back yard! Conduct regular checks for ticks during spring and early summer. If you come across a tick on your dog, there are a couple options to take care of it:
Pull it off on your own. This option is not for everyone depending on your comfortability. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet of "how-to", one very dangerous (especially for dogs) bit of advice would be to "take a lit match to the tick until it lets go". I'm sure we can all agree, putting an open flame by a bunch of hair is not an ideal thing to do. Instead, you'll need a pair of tweezers, gently grasp the tick closest to the embedded head as possible and slowly pull straight out. Careful not to cause the head to break off or to squish the tick as that can aid in release of tick-borne diseases.
Call your vet! Especially if you come across multiple ticks, give your veterinarian a call to have them removed.
Lastly, if you have an appointment coming up with your local groomer, you can call ahead and ask if they are able to accommodate tick removal. Ideally this will be your last resort, especially if it is known BEFORE you bring your dog to the groomer, as we have other animals in our facility that we care for. Most groomers will follow strict protocol when they come across an unknown tick, including removal.
Ok, now that we all have the heebie-jeebies, feel free to share your tick stories below. The next part to our series will be Fleas!