Why are there so many ticks these days? Your dog had a tick, you had a tick, and your neighbor had a tick. It used to be that ticks were associated with hiking, camping, or trekking into the woods. Now ticks are possible, even likely, from a short foray across your front yard to get the mail or just throwing the ball for your dog in the tall grass. Unfortunately, the most common tick in Northwest Pennsylvania is the Deer Tick – the carrier of Lyme disease.
The Deer Tick has seasonal peaks, when we find it on our dogs and on us, in spring and fall. You probably won’t find a tick on you or your dog in the summer. Why? The Deer Tick lifecycle is – well, complicated.
The Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis) is a 3-Host Tick. A deer tick must visit 3 different mammals during its 2 year lifecycle. They feed just 3 times – when they molt from larvae to nymph, nymph to adult, and when the adults feed to lay eggs. Here are some key points:
- In the early summer (June or July) eggs hatch that were laid in the spring. The tiny larvae feeds on small mammals – white-footed mice and chipmunks. They drop off and overwinter in the ground- impervious to the snow and freezing temperatures!
- The following May the larvae molt into nymphs, feeding on larger mammals like squirrels and opossums, then drop off and molt into adults. This is also a stage that likes to feed on people and dogs.
- The adult stage becomes active in October and remains active through the winter if ground and air temperatures stay above freezing. This stage feeds on large mammals – historically deer, but now also dogs… and people! In May their life cycle ends – but not before the females lay 1000- 3000 eggs EACH. .
So why are we finding them on the dogs and us? Tick populations are exploding. Deer ticks are found in forests but also in common areas for dog walks like shrub lands, land with leaf litter, leaf piles, even mowed fields and lawns. Deer ticks need White Tailed Deer, and deer have been on the increase in Pennsylvania since the 1940s. Even a good acorn year can indirectly increase the number of ticks!
What can be done?
Avoiding ticks remains the best way to prevent any tick infestation and avoiding the diseases they can carry. This is not always possible – but the Center for Disease Control (CDC) gives the following advice for people:
Avoid Direct Contact with Ticks
- Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Walk in the center of trails.
- Repel Ticks with DEET or Permethrin on clothes
- Find and Remove Ticks from Your Body
And the CDC offers this advice for our pets:
To reduce the chances that a tick will transmit disease to you or your pets:
- Check your pets for ticks daily, especially after they spend time outdoors.
- If you find a tick on your dog, remove it right away.
- Ask your veterinarian to conduct a tick check at each exam.
- Talk to your veterinarian about tick-borne diseases in your area.
- Reduce tick habitat in your yard.
- Talk with your veterinarian about using tick preventives on your pet.
Preventatives are available that repel and kill ticks on dogs. Tick insecticides have come a long way since the introduction of DDT in World War II. Tick preventatives that we sell at Clarion Animal Hospital are very safe and effective when used according to package directions for the size of the pet and the correct species (dog or cat). We do NOT recommend using over-the-counter products (OTC products) at this time due to the variety of chemicals that are still on the market that can cause mammal toxicity in addition to killing the tick.
Please feel free to call or email Clarion Animal Hospital for all the different products we carry to help safely ELIMINATE your dog’s tick exposure!!!! Happy hiking, playing, and avoiding ticks this fall!!!!
-Dr. Kim Williams