Ticks are bloodsucking parasites. Although there are several different types of ticks, each has four stages of development in its lifecycle. These four stages are: the egg, the six-legged larva, the eight legged but sexually immature nymph, and the eight legged sexually mature adult. The types of ticks vary in how many different host animals they visit during this lifecycle. Some one host ticks go from larva to adult on one host animal, others drop off their host after the nymph has fed to seek another host for the remainder of the lifecycle. There are also three host ticks whose larvae and nymphs drop off after feeding. This cycle can span several weeks to two years.
Two and three host ticks can spread disease interstadially ; that is the disease organism is carried by the tick as it transforms from one developmental stage to the next. One host ticks transmit disease by passing organisms from an infected adult female tick to her young.
Tick populations and the diseases associated with them vary demographically. The most common tick in the lower mainland is the Dog tick, followed by the Deer tick. In the Pacific Northwest Lyme disease is the most prevalent concern. Elsewhere ticks are associated with tick paralysis, Babesiosis, rickettsial diseases, viral diseases and bacterial diseases.
BC Centre for Disease Control: Lyme_Disease_Risk_Areas_Map_BC_June_2013
Pets most at risk are those exposed to grassy and woody areas populated by wild animals. Camping and hiking are common times to attract ticks. You may see nymphs or adult ticks on your pet as both phases feed on animals. The unfed ticks come onto your pet looking like a small crawling bug, the immature stages being smaller than the adults. Once attached to your pet and feeding they swell up until they look first like a dried raisin and then like a well plumped one. When they finish feeding they leave an inflamed area where they penetrated the skin.
A tick can be manually removed by grasping it very close to the skin with a pair of tweezers and gently rotating. However, if the tick is broken mouth pieces are left in the skin a crusty sore may develop. If you wait a few days until it finishes gorging itself, the tick will fall off on its own. Special “tick twisters” are available, and can be purchased at our office. Alternately, you can bring your pet in for us to remove and dispose of the tick. Live ticks can also be sent to a lab for identification for disease risk. A blood test is also available to screen for the Lyme disease bacteria.
To prevent ticks, avoid areas with tall grasses for pets, and always wear long pants with shoes and socks when hiking for humans. A monthly flea and tick preventative is available for dogs. Nexgard is a soft, beef flavoured chew given once monthly to kill adult fleas and ticks.