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The Importance of Checking Your Pets for Ticks During Fall

Updated Nov 21, 2022

Updated Nov 21, 2022

Home > Pest > The Importance of Checking Your Pets for Ticks During Fall

While some think of ticks as summer pests, in reality, they’re a year-round problem. Some ticks, like the black-legged deer tick, become more prevalent during fall, with peak activity occurring from October through May. Even worse, species like the black-legged deer tick prefer to feed on smaller mammals, like dogs, cats, and mice, making tick bites for pets more common during the fall months.

In order to keep your favorite furry friend healthy and tick-free this fall, you’ll need to brush up on proper tick prevention. This article covers everything you need to know about ticks, how to check your pet for them, and what to do if you find a tick.

What Is a Tick?

Ticks, or by their scientific name, Ixodida, are tiny arachnids and external parasites. They feed off of host animals from the outside, unlike internal parasites like tapeworms. Over 90 types of ticks exist in the continental U.S., most of which plague the Northeastern states.

Adult ticks are about the size of a poppy seed, but female ticks can grow up to half an inch in length once engorged. They have broad, flat bodies with eight legs and long mouth parts called capitulum. Ticks can’t fly or jump like fleas, ranging in color from rust brown to black, beige, and off-red.

Ticks have a complex life cycle, hatching as larvae, where they feed off of small mammals like squirrels. Then they grow to a nymph stage, targeting larger prey, like dogs, cats, birds, and reptiles. This stage of ticks can be complicated to deal with, as they are nearly impossible to spot. Thankfully, larval and nymph ticks are not likely to transmit diseases, but they can still cause allergic reactions, rashes, and irritation. Once ticks reach adulthood, they seek out larger wild animals or humans, lay eggs, then die.

Ticks feed on a wide range of hosts, from humans to birds, reptiles, and other mammals. Ticks find hosts by making their way to the tops of foliage and waving their arms; this is called questing behavior. As a creature passes by, the tick latches on and attaches itself.

Although there are many different species of ticks out there, these are the ticks you’re most likely to come across in autumn:

Dog Tick

The American dog tick, or Dermacentor variabilis, is identifiable by cream-colored markings on its back, along with its short mouthparts. This tick is one of the most common species to bite humans and dogs. They prefer locations with no tree cover, like grasslands, trails, fields, and edges of sidewalks.

dog tick climbing on a leaf
Image Source: Canva

Deer Tick

Also known as black-legged ticks or Ixodes scapularis, these ticks are the most common during fall and winter. Males of this species have dark bodies, while females have red-brown bodies with dark black legs. They prefer locations with heavy ground cover, such as leaf piles or shrubs. While human bites are rare, you may find these parasites on your cat or dog.

deer tick walking across a plant
Image Source: Canva

Brown Dog Tick

Rhipicephalus sanguineus, or the brown dog tick, is a worldwide parasite of dogs and other canids. These ticks are one of the only species able to fully reproduce and live out their life cycle indoors. These ticks are some of the most troublesome on this list, as they are known to infest entire homes or kennels after hitching a ride on pets.

brown dog tick climbing on someone's skin
Image Source: Canva

Why Is It Important to Check for Ticks?

Ticks are vectors for numerous dangerous bacterial diseases and parasites. Some of the most common tick-borne illnesses include:

Tick Prevention for Pets

Dogs and cats are highly susceptible to tick bites and tick-transmitted diseases. Furthermore, preventing your dog or cat from getting tick bites is difficult, as they can encounter these nasty pests any time they go outside. Dogs are most susceptible to ticks on walks, park trips, or strolls. Cats will only be exposed if they frequently go outside, so indoor cats shouldn’t face any tick problems unless another pet brings a tick inside.

Thankfully, there are plenty of tick prevention techniques you can take to keep your pets tick-free this fall. First, we recommend consulting with your veterinarian for appropriate anti-tick products for your pet. Some breeds of dogs (and most cats) are extremely sensitive to the chemicals in tick products, and your vet will know which treatment can best help your pet without irritating them. These products can range from anti-tick collars to sprays, powders, shampoos, and even some vaccines.

While tick prevention products can help tremendously, we still recommend that you give your pets a thorough tick check each time they enter a tick-infested area. When attaching to a host animal, ticks access hidden nooks and crannies, which means they’re more difficult to spot and remove. You should look over and inspect the following locations on your pets when trying to spot and remove ticks:

  • Around and under the collar
  • In and around the ears
  • Around the eyes
  • Around the base of and the underside of the tail
  • On the pads of their feet
  • Between their toes
  • The underside of the front legs and back legs
  • The armpits
  • The groin region 
dog scratching its ears
Image Source: Canva

Ticks can be difficult to spot; if you miss one, your pet may begin showing signs of tick bites. While not all animals react to ticks the same way, some common signs of tick infestations in pets include the following:

  • Increased scratching or itching
  • Gnawing at the skin
  • Increased licking, potentially to the point of removing hair
  • Red, scabby, or irritated skin
  • Runny eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Vomiting
  • Chewing between their feet
  • Swollen pads of feet
  • Ear infections or inflammation

How To Remove Ticks if You Find One

If you find a tick, don’t panic, as they aren’t complicated to remove. Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t use heat, petroleum jelly, or nail polish remover as a tick removal method. These can kill the tick, making it release digestive liquids and increasing the risk of tick-borne diseases making their way into the wound. Instead, you should:

  1. Using a pair of fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick at its head and mouthparts. You will want to get the tweezers as close to the skin as possible.
  2. Using steady and even pressure, pull directly upward until the tick is removed.
    1. Do not twist, jerk, or wiggle the tick, as this can remove the head or mouthparts while still within the wound.
    2. If the tick’s head or mouthparts become dislodged, carefully remove them with tweezers.
  3. Once the tick has been removed, thoroughly clean the wound with hot soap and water, then disinfect it with rubbing alcohol.
  4. Do not crush, or smash the tick, especially if it is still within the wound. Crushing ticks means they could release internal fluids, increasing the chance of exposure to tick-borne diseases. Instead, you should dispose of a live tick by:
    1. Placing it in a sealed plastic bag and throwing it away.
    2. Flushing it down the toilet.
    3. Placing it in a small container of alcohol (this kills the tick), then throwing it away.

Keep Your Pets Tick-free This Autumn

While it might be an unpleasant chore, checking for ticks is something pet owners should do after every major outing. Ticks are dangerous parasites that can seriously harm our animal companions. But, by practicing year-round tick and pest prevention while also keeping a close eye on our pets (regardless of the season), we can keep them tick-free and healthy.

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