Ticks belong to the arachnid family, meaning they have the same anatomy as a spider. They are blood sucking creatures and can cause temporary canine anorexia. Similar to what mosquitoes do, ticks draw blood from their prey. They are difficult to eradicate and lay more than 3000 eggs at a time. The ticks remain dormant throughout winter and are usually active around summer and monsoon seasons in India.
How do they function
Ticks absorb the prey’s blood in their body, much like an empty balloon ready to fill up. For instance, even though an adult tick may not look bigger than a sesame seed, once full, it can fill up to two or three times its original size.
Types of ticks found in India
Out of 850 types of ticks found world over, two of the most common ones seen in India are the Deer tick and the Dog tick.
Since these ticks can latch onto a dog for weeks at a stretch, they can cause severe anemia. This in turn can lead to several tick-borne diseases, which is why it is imperative to be able to identify ticks.
This common tick can affect both dogs and humans. They belong to the Ixodiade family, also known as ‘hard ticks’, which means they cannot see. They latch onto the next host by identifying heat sensors from the tip of their feet and the front of their mouth.
One of the most common causes of Lyme disease in the world are Deer ticks. Even though Lyme fever isn’t that common in India, there have been a few cases in the Himalayan region.
Brown Dog Tick
Infamously known to attack dogs, these ticks are characterised by their reddish-brown colour. Since they aren’t too big they can easily attach themselves to your pet. Scientists speculate that there are around six different types of brown dog tick species that exist and affect the dogs in India.
The most dangerous trait about these ticks is that they can complete an entire life cycle indoors. As they don’t move too far once they are full, they can latch onto your pet whenever they are hungry. They carry pathogens that can harm humans and pets, and cause diseases such as the Indian tick typhus or tick fever which is lethal for pets, children and adults. Brown dog ticks are frequently found on the ears, neck or between the paw pads - places they can go unnoticed.
Signs that your pet has ticks
In mild cases of tick infestation, your pet will go about their daily routine as usual. However, in severe cases, they may experience loss of appetite, develop brittle and itchy skin, display loss of energy and scratch obsessively behind their ears or on their paws.
If you believe your pet has ticks, direct them to the bathroom or balcony and check their neck, ears, paws and groin areas. These ticks will look like moles. They only fall off the host’s body once they are full, which makes it easier to pull off. In some cases, they secure themselves tightly to your pet’s skin. Pulling them off can tear off a little flesh or draw blood.
How to carefully remove ticks
Use a pair of tweezers to pull out the ticks. Then dip them in hot soapy water; this will kill them almost instantly and will reduce contamination.
For big ticks, rotate the tweezer 360 degrees. The rotation helps loosen the grip and enables you to remove it right from the mouth.
It’s important to remove the ticks from the mouth, because their chelicerae (pair of appendages in front of the mouth) are hard and pointed straight. This helps them effectively penetrate through the skin and gives them a powerful grip.
The mouth containing all the disease causing pathogens, if left on your pet will disintegrate and fall off in a few days. Even so, it exposes your pet to harmful pathogens for longer.
If the tick infestation is severe, please consult your veterinarian and have them removed professionally.
In sensitive places like the eyes, ears and groin, it is better to seek professional help, especially when it causes your pet discomfort when trying to pull them off.
Avoid spraying exorbitant amounts of tick sprays on young puppies as they contain small amounts of rubbing alcohol, which is poisonous to dogs. Even small amounts of it can get absorbed by their skin, making them a little tipsy.
What you shouldn’t do
Do not rub alcohol on their skin - even small amounts are dangerous for your pet. It can lead to the ticks getting agitated from the alcohol and regurgitating the contents of their stomach inside your dog, further increasing the chances of tick-borne diseases.
Do not flush the ticks - since ticks have a hard external shell, they can go dormant for years if the environment does not suit them. Flushing them alive, only means you’re sending them off to build a new colony. Burn them or dip them in hot soapy water before flushing.
Do not crush them between your fingers - crushing them between your fingers not only puts yourself at greater risk, but also exposes you to disease causing pathogens. Use tweezers instead and avoid direct contact with the ticks.
Ticks can be problematic if not dealt with in time. These nasty critters take up a lot of your day and cause a lot of problems. The best way to protect your pet and yourself is to make sure they don’t get you.