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Oklahoma State University
Center for Veterinary Health Sciences

Healthy Animals - Healthy People

Ticks: What You Need to Know

Tuesday, June 20 2017

two ticks

Ticks in Oklahoma could be abundant this year due to the mild winter and large numbers of wild animal reservoir hosts. These little creatures are very hearty and can actually survive the winter even if it freezes. Ticks are a year-round problem.

Prevention is first and foremost. Place your dog or cat on an approved acaricide, which is a pesticide that kills mites and ticks. Be sure to always follow directions according to the product label. Your veterinarian can recommend the best preventive for your pet.

A tick is not an insect. Insects have six legs while a tick has eight legs and is related to spiders and chiggers. Like fleas and mosquitoes, ticks are blood sucking parasites that can cause serious health issues for people and pets.

Ticks are found in a variety of habitats including wooded areas with a lot of vegetation, vegetation along trails, or in more open areas such as grass on pasture.  Ticks cannot jump or fly. Instead, they cling to the vegetation and merely grab on to a passing victim as they walk by.

The adult tick inserts its mouthparts in the animal or human where it can consume six to ten times its body weight. A female tick will mate while sucking the victim’s blood and will then fall off into the environment where she can lay up to 6,000 eggs.

Check yourself and your pets daily, especially after any exposure to tick infested areas. Get in a brightly lit area and use a magnifying glass if necessary.

Ticks can be as small as a pinhead before they feed and engorge making it very difficult to spot them. Look at the skin line around your pet’s head, nose, face, paws and chest. These are the areas where ticks tend to grab onto first as your pet is walking through the vegetation.

If you find a tick, it needs to be removed immediately. Since ticks are blood sucking parasites, they can transmit disease agents from one animal to another or even to people.

In Oklahoma, diseases including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Ehrlichiosis are important. Ticks can also carry blood borne diseases where red blood cells are destroyed, which can cause anemia that is sometimes severe.

The longer a tick feeds on its host, the greater the chance that tick can transmit its disease to you or your pet.

Here are easy steps to follow to successfully remove a tick:

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  • Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick as this can cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth parts with tweezers.
  • After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
  • Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag or container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

Year-round preventive treatment is the best protection for your pet. If you are venturing into wooded or other natural areas, wear light colored clothing, long sleeves and long pants. Tuck your pant legs into your socks and spray your pants with acaricides.

Often a tick bite is not painful initially so you may not even realize that you have a tick on your body. Your pet may not be scratching to suggest a tick bite so it is important to check both of you daily and especially after being in possible tick-infested areas.

by Elisabeth J. Giedt, DVM

Pictured above: Dermacentor variabilis (the American dog tick). A male is on the left and a female is on the right. This tick is an important vector of Rocky Mountain Spotted fever. Its distribution includes the south central (including Oklahoma) and south eastern United States. Photo courtesy of the National Center for Veterinary Parasitology. 

Veterinary Viewpoints is provided by the faculty of the OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital.  Certified by the American Animal Hospital Association, the hospital is open to the public providing routine and specialized care for all species and 24-hour emergency care, 365 days a year.