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Removing Ticks from Pets

Ticks are more than just a pest that irritates a cat or a dog. They can cause terrible illness, transfer blood borne disease and in some cases, cause paralysis and even death. Once identified, it’s important to get these blood-suckers off quickly but calmly to prevent further infection.

Brown dog ticks, bush ticks and kangaroo ticks can be found in rural areas, bushlands and in parks where dogs enjoy playing. Although kangaroo ticks are found throughout rural WA, they are also prevalent in bushland and parks in the outer areas of the metropolitan area where kangaroos inhabit. The most dangerous species, the paralysis tick, is predominantly found along the east coast of Australia and does not appear to have reached WA yet.

Throughout their life cycle, ticks have three blood meals. Once hatched, they climb vegetation and wait for their first host to come along so that they can feed. After being successful, they drop off the animal, moult into the nymph stage and once again climb vegetation to await another host. Again, after feeding, they drop to the ground, moult and develop into an adult. For a third time they climb high to wait for a host. The male tick stays on the host searching for a female to mate with but it doesn’t suck blood from the animal. The female does feed from the host then will drop to the ground and lay 2500 to 3000 eggs in the leaf litter.

Each time a tick sucks blood from its host, it spits toxic saliva into the bite area and then sucks it back up with a little blood. It repeats this several times over the course of its feed leaving some of the toxin behind potentially spreading disease and possibly, depending on the species, causing paralysis or even death.

Since ticks have three different blood meals from three different animals during their life cycle, they can easily transfer diseases from one host to the other. The hosts can be native animals, domestic animals and even humans. In WA there are two serious dog diseases that affect red blood cells but fortunately studies have not yet shown that Lyme disease, a very serious illness which can be transferred from animals to humans by ticks, exists in Australia.

Ticks are usually visible on an animal (or human) once they have embedded themselves into the body whilst feeding. They can be dark red, brown and dark grey in colour and swell to around 25mm once engorged. They are more commonly found on dogs than on cats, especially if the dog spends time exercising in bushland where kangaroos inhabit.

It is important to regularly check pets for ticks, especially after spending time in bushland or at parks. Spend extra time searching around the head, neck and ears but attention should also be given to the rest of the body. Sometimes skin inflammation is noticed before the tick is seen.

If the pet shows any signs of sickness, lethargy or even a slight paralysis it may have been exposed to a tick bite and veterinary assistance should be sought immediately. If the tick can’t be found, the vet may resort to clipping the fur to make them more visible.

Tick infestations are never going to be eliminated from natural bushland but on private properties their prevalence can be reduced by keeping grass short, pruning shrubs along walk paths and building high fences to prevent access by kangaroos. Clean kennels and bedding frequently, treat the environment with an approved pesticide and limit the pet’s contact with stray animals, wildlife and rodents.

Spot-on treatments and sprays which are available combined with flea treatments are the most effective and easiest of all available tick controls since one application will remain effective for up to four weeks. For animals that live in areas where ticks are prevalent, these should be applied fortnightly.

Better Pets and Gardens can offer advice on the best tick treatment to suit the size and activity of your pet and also stock safe but effective products to be used to protect the pet’s environment.

Moving too fast when removing a tick could potentially cause more problems so it is best to stay calm and have a plan.

STEP 1 – Prepare a container for the tick.

After removing a tick from the skin, it will still be alive so throwing it in the rubbish bin will not kill it. Storing it in a screw-top jar, preferably in some rubbing alcohol, will ensure that it doesn’t escape and will be useful for veterinary testing if your pet does fall ill.

STEP 2 – Prepare yourself.
Wear latex gloves to that you don’t have direct contact with the tick or the bite area which can carry infective agents. Find someone to help hold the pet so that it stays quiet whilst you remove the tick and fetch a pair of fine-pointed tweezers and some surgical spirit or disinfectant.

STEP 3 – Remove the tick
Use the tweezers to take hold of the tick as close to the animal’s skin as possible and slowly lever the tick out, pulling straight upwards with steady, even pressure. Avoid squeezing the tick’s body as it will be engorged with fluids and may cause further contamination. Do not twist the tick as this may cause the mouth-parts to remain in the skin. If this does occur it shouldn’t be too much of a problem if it can’t be removed but so long as too much digging isn’t required, it would be worth taking out. A warm compress over the area might help the body to expel the remaining mouth-piece.

STEP 4 – Disinfection
After storing the tick in the jar, disinfect the area and wash your hands with soap and water. Sterilise the tweezers before storage.

STEP 5 – Monitoring
Always monitor a pet for several weeks after it has been bitten by a tick for signs of infection, inflammation or change of demeanour and if at all concerned, seek veterinary advice.

Some will suggest aggravating a tick by applying a volatile liquid such as methylated or surgical spirit to it or suffocating it with Vaseline to cause it to back out itself but these methods are problematic when dealing with animals and can take several hours to have success, if they do at all. In fact, these methods may result in more problems as they can make the tick spit out more poison and also, do not capture the tick which can then remain in the environment as a further risk for the pet and the family.

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