Ticks and fleas are horrible and annoying bugs, hard to get rid of, hard to live with, and just downright weird! I mean, think about it: They suck your blood, so they’re basically vampires, and when you look at them under a microscope, they look like aliens. Or perhaps some kind of twisted mutant. Weirdest of all, in some cases, a bite from the lone star tick can trigger an allergy to red meats in both dogs and pet parents!
But they are also fascinating little bugs. Imagine, a bug that use glue to hold onto you.
- Ticks use glue to stick to you! Ever wonder why ticks are so good at sticking to their hosts? The answer is glue, or something very much like it. When a tick climbs onto a host to feed, their mouth secretes a liquid-concrete-like material called cementum. This same material helps the tick create a barbed feeding tube, making them even harder to remove. A tick’s saliva also contains a numbing agent with anti-inflammatory properties, which allows the parasite to feed unnoticed.
- Fleas and ticks use your pet like a toilet! Fleas and ticks create a lot of waste when they eat. And because they feed on your pet’s body, guess where all that feces goes? You guessed it: Your pet. All those tiny black dots you see in your dog’s coat right around the bite site, yeah…that’s poop. Fleas produce tons of feces for their size, so much so that it’s the flea larvae’s primary source of food. Tick poop, while equally gross, is far more dangerous, as it can contain bacteria that spread Lyme disease.
- They can go months without eating! One of the reasons fleas and ticks are so hard to control is because they’ve evolved to be extremely durable organisms. One feature of this durability is that both parasites can survive extended periods without food. Fleas are known to go up to 100 days between blood meals (flea pupae up to a year), whereas ticks are said to be capable of going several years without feeding.
- These parasites carry their own parasites! When fleas infest your pet’s fur, they’re bringing some nasty friends along with them. Did you know a single flea can carry upwards of 150 parasitic mites? These mites transmit everything from tapeworms and bacteria to diseases such as typhus and cat scratch fever.
- Fleas are superhero-quality jumpers! We all know fleas are talented jumpers, but this is ridiculous. Not only can fleas jump over 110 times their body length (which is like a human jumping over a skyscraper), but they can jump over 30,000 times without stopping for a rest – which is just insane! Craziest of all, when a flea jumps, it accelerates 20 times faster than the launch of a space shuttle!
- Fleas can lay up to 50 eggs a day! While 20 is more the average, it’s not uncommon for a flea to lay 50 eggs in a single day. Just imagine: if a female lays 50 eggs in one day, and half those eggs are females, you could be facing over 20,000 fleas in as little as 60 days. In other words, a flea infestation can get out of hand in no time.
- Fleas can cause anemia! In severe cases, a flea infestation can drain so much blood from a host that anemia can occur. This happens almost exclusively in young animals and is quite uncommon. In rare cases, blood transfusions are necessary.
- Tick bites can turn you into a vegetarian! Severe Itching, hives and a potentially fatal anaphylactic reaction can occur in individuals suffering from this peculiar side effect. Worst of all, no one really knows how long this tick-caused allergic reaction may last.
Although commonly thought to be an insect, ticks are arachnids, which means they are more like spiders. They live solely on the blood of animals- and sometimes humans. Tick bites can range from mild nuisance to serious medical condition. While most tick bites are harmless, on rare occasions, tick bites can transmit serious illnesses like African tick bite fever (Wikipedia), Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, relapsing fever, tularemia, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis (and even more in pets). Ticks can stay attached to their host for days, even weeks, after the initial bite. The longer a tick stays attached to you or your pet, the higher the chances are of contracting an illness or other infection (ticks removed within 36 hours rarely cause disease or infection). In other words, if you or your pet gets bitten by a tick, you need to remove it as soon as possible.
Incidentally, over 80 tick species have been identified and documented in South Africa over the past 200 years.
Read More: A comparison between tick species collected in a controlled and control free area on game ranch in South Africa, Schroder et al (PDF)
Read More: Ticks of Veterinary Importance / Differential Diagnosis, Madder et al (PDF)
Top Places Ticks Like to Party
- Under Legs
- Between Toes
Slowly brush your fingers through their fur, looking for any unusual bumps or lumps on or near the skin. Ticks particularly enjoy hiding in dark, warm locations, so be sure to check on and within your pet’s’ ears, between toes, under armpits, and under or near their tail.
For Pet Parents
Pay close attention to these areas: armpits, ears, belly button, scalp, around the waist, back of knees, crotch, thighs, and in between toes and fingers.
How to remove a Tick
There are countless myths and old wives’ tales concerning how to remove a tick – some involve burning the parasite with a match, others advocate suffocation with solutions like alcohol and even peanut butter. However, most of these tips are incorrect and, if used, can lead to additional complications like infection. Instead, follow the simple steps below to properly and safely remove a tick (the process is the same for both animals and humans).
Using pointed tweezers, grab the tick as close to the skin surface as possible; this usually means grabbing the tick by its mouthparts. Avoid squeezing or damaging the tick in any way – when harmed or irritated, ticks can expel infectious bodily fluids into the bloodstream of their hosts.
Slowly and carefully pull directly upward. Do not twist or yank the tick. With steady pressure, you should be able to remove the entire tick intact.
If the tick’s mouthparts break off in the skin, attempt to carefully remove them. If this cannot be done easily, stop trying and leave them inside. Monitor the site and consult a medical professional if you spot any signs of infection.
After removal, thoroughly clean and disinfect the bite site with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
Place the removed tick in a ziplock bag; it will eventually suffocate and die. You may wish to save the tick for up to two weeks – in the event you or your pet begin showing signs of illness, you may want to have the tick identified or tested for disease by a professional.
Over the next two weeks, observe the bite site for any signs of disease or infection, like rashes, swelling, tenderness or redness. Consult a medical professional if such signs occur.
If you begin experiencing flu-like symptoms shortly after removing a tick (3-14 days), consult a medical professional immediately.
Preventing Tick Bites
- Wear the right clothing. Try not to leave any bare skin where ticks could easily attach. Wear long sleeves and pants. It’s also easier to spot ticks in light colored clothing.
- Use natural insect repellent.
- Stay on the trails. When possible, stay on walking trails and away from overgrown areas where ticks may hide.
- Check for ticks throughout the day.
- Eliminate their habitats. Make your property less friendly to ticks by keeping your lawn and plants trimmed. Spray a chemical-free insecticide to kill existing bugs and prevent future infestations.
- Check your pets. Regularly checking for ticks and using chemical free tick repellent will help prevent pets from bringing ticks into your home.
Prevention is the only foolproof method of avoiding ticks. Before and after you and your pet engage in outdoor activities during tick season, it’s advisable to apply a naturally sourced insecticide and repellent to both yourself and your furry friend. It’s also generally a good idea to treat your yard for fleas and ticks during the warmer months of the year.