Ticks are skin parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts. They are not insects but belong to the spider family because nymphs and adults have eight legs.
Ticks are a growing problem in the Mississauga area. The black-legged (deer) tick which transmits Lyme disease has expanded its range from its original habitat in the northeastern United States and north shore of Lake Erie to fully encircle Lake Ontario and include Mississauga. Consequently, we need to be more aware of ticks and tick-borne diseases.
Ticks go through 3 life stages, larva, nymph and adult before laying eggs. At each stage the tick must attach to the host and take a blood meal before it can develop into the next stage. This life cycle can take 1-2 years. Ticks like motion, warm temperatures from body heat and carbon dioxide exhaled by mammals which is why they are attracted to hosts such as dogs, cats, rodents, rabbits, cattle, small mammals and humans.
When the tick attaches to the host to feed, in addition to the disgusting nature of a parasite attached to your pet and engorging itself with blood to lay eggs, it can transmit diseases.
When some ticks attach to dogs they can cause paralysis known as ‘tick paralysis’. This usually requires several ticks to be attached to a susceptible dog so it is not a common occurrence and will resolve if all the ticks are removed.
The best known disease transmitted by ticks is Lyme disease. It is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi a bacteria which is transmitted by the deer tick. Not all deer ticks carry this bacteria and only a small percentage of dogs who get the bacteria will get the disease. So while it is not a huge risk it in important to be aware if your dog is exposed to ticks.
Humans are also at risk for Lyme disease and a higher percentage of humans bitten by a tick will develop Lyme disease than will animals bitten by a tick. Lyme disease is only transmitted to humans by a tick bite.
The most common sign of Lyme disease in pets is lameness which occurs 1-4 months after the tick has bitten. In more serious cases there can be kidney or heart disease. Lyme disease generally responds well to antibiotics.