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Ticks are 8-legged, blood-sucking parasites that belong to the spider family. They can be extremely small and hard to spot on your pet, but once they start feeding, they can engorge themselves as much as 50 times their normal size. They feed by firmly attaching their mouthparts to the animal or person. An engorged tick is grayish in color and is about the size of a pea or larger. Sometimes pet owners mistake a tick for a tumor that suddenly grew overnight on their pet.
Since ticks cannot fly or jump, they like to live on leaves, long grasses, and bushes while they wait for animals and humans to come along and brush against them which gives them the opportunity to attach themselves. Hiking trails, forests, hills, and parks are some of the places where ticks like to hang out.
Ticks can live all year round. The immature or nymphal ticks are usually found in the spring and summer. The adult ticks are usually found around fall and winter. The chances for getting tick bites are greater in the spring and summer because pets and people engage in more outdoor activities. It is harder to spot nymphs because they are almost the size of a pinpoint, thus it is easier for them to transmit tick-borne diseases.
Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and tick paralysis are some of the diseases ticks can transmit to pets. None of these conditions are common in this area, but symptoms include lethargy, weakness, joint pain, soreness, loss of appetite, fever, diarrhea and possibly paralysis. If you notice any of these symptoms and you have seen ticks on your pet, let the doctor know right away. These diseases can be cured with antibiotics, especially when they are caught early.
We do not believe the vaccine is effective. The Lyme vaccine protects against strains of the disease that are not found in this area and very few of the particular species of ticks even carries Lyme disease. In addition, the vaccine may lead to problems such as polyarthritis and may do more harm than good.
The San Mateo County Public Health Services reports that the incidence of Lyme disease here is very low. In fact, adult ticks are often clear of the infection if they had it as nymphs. Also, an infective tick must be attached to your pet for 24 to 48 hours to transmit the disease. If you find a tick on you or your pet and want some peace of mind, you can have it tested for Lyme disease at the County Public Health Lab. Their phone number is (650) 573-2500. The test is $10 and you must bring the tick in alive.
After any outdoor activity, you should check pets thoroughly for ticks, concentrating on the ears, neck, and between the toes. If you find a tick, you must remove it very carefully because ticks are sometimes attached so strongly that their heads are actually embedded in the skin. Do not use your bare fingers or try to remove it with alcohol, kerosene, lighted match or cigarette; they don't work and can badly hurt your pet! Use tweezers and grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Give a gentle pull straight upward from the skin without any twisting. The idea is to remove the entire tick, mouthparts and all. After the tick is removed, you can dab some antiseptic or antibacterial ointment to prevent infection at the bite area. Dispose of the tick by placing it in some alcohol or flushing it down the toilet. Feel free to bring your pet into our hospital for tick removal or helpful advice.
The best tick control products are Frontline and Preventic collars or sprays. Frontline kills ticks, but you may have to remove them from your pet as they may still remain attached. Preventic causes ticks to withdraw, even after they have attached themselves to the pet. You and your veterinarian should discuss the best tick control for your pet.