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How dangerous are ticks for your pet?

Ticks can be tiny and difficult to see on your pet.
Ticks can be tiny and difficult to see on your pet.
Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images

Many pet owners neglect to worry about parasites like ticks until they actually see them on their pet. This is far from the best strategy to keep your pet safe and healthy. Let's talk about ticks and why you should be concerned about them.

While summer is not yet officially over, fall is just around the corner. In many parts of the country, the cooler temperatures of fall also bring an upsurge in the number of ticks. And with the cooler temperatures, those ticks are also actively looking for warm bodies to infest - like that of your pet.

What are ticks?

Ticks are parasites that belong to the family known as arachnids. Though often mistakenly thought of insects, ticks differ from insects. While insects typically have six legs, ticks have eight.

Ticks feed by sucking your pet's blood. Once they find a suitable host, like your pet, they sink their specialized mouthpart into your pet's skin and proceed to dine. Once the tick is fully fed, it will detach and drop off your pet to continue its lifecycle and continue reproducing (i.e. producing more ticks.)

Though one tick is unlikely to cause enough blood loss to be dangerous for your pet, pets heavily infested with large numbers of ticks can lose significant amounts of blood. This loss of blood can lead to anemia and other health problems for your pet.

What other kinds of dangers can ticks pose to a pet?

One of the most serious dangers tick pose to your pet is that of disease transmission. Ticks carry a wide variety of diseases, many of which can be deadly for your pet. A few of the diseases that may be transmitted to your dog from a tick include:

  • Lyme disease
  • Anaplasmosis
  • Echlichiosis
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Tick paralysis

In cats, a deadly disease known as cytauzoonosis is spread by ticks. Cytauzoonosis is most often fatal for infected cats. Very few cats survive the infection as there are currently no truly effective cures.

Can pets infested with ticks or infected with a tick-borne disease pose a threat to people?

Ticks will feed on people as well as pets. It is entirely possible for a pet to carry ticks into the home or yard environment. These ticks may then feed on human family members as well as pets.

While most tick-borne diseases are not directly passed from pets to people, many of them can still cause disease in people through the bite of a tick. So, even though a pet suffering from a tick-borne disease is not a huge threat to you or your family, the ticks that carry those diseases are.

What can I do to protect my pet from ticks?

Avoid tick-infested areas when walking with your pet. If hiking in a wooded area, keep your dog on the trail and out of the shrubbery and underbrush where the ticks are likely to be lurking. Keep cats indoors. Keep in mind that wildlife (squirrels, raccoons, skunks, rabbits, birds, etc.) can carry ticks even into areas such as your yard.

Check your pet from nose to tail regularly for ticks and remove any ticks you do find promptly.

Consult your veterinarian to choose a safe, effective tick preventive to use for your pet. There are many alternatives available. The best choice for your pet will vary depending on your individual pet's health and risk factors, the ticks present in your geographical location, the safety margin of the product itself, and many other factors. Though it may be tempting to go to your local pet store and choose the cheapest alternative, that product may not be the best option for your pet. It's fine to purchase a product online or from local pet store but seek your veterinarian's council regarding which product(s) to consider before purchasing. Always use tick control products following the label directions. Never use tick products labeled only for dogs on your cat.