Ticks are common parasites affecting dogs and cats in many areas of the world. They require a blood feed to complete their development and acquire this through biting their preferred animal host. They have well developed mouth parts that allow strong attachment to the skin for several days, as well as specialized saliva which allows them to feed on blood efficiently. The ticks seen on dogs and cats are usually adults. However, these adults have developed from immature tick stages that survive in the environment for several seasons/years. Types of environment suitable for tick development include forest, grass and moorland vegetation close to wild mammals or birds on which they can feed during their immature stages. Dogs and cats most commonly become infested with ticks when they are in walking, working or hunting in these areas. Some specialized ticks can develop in kennel environments. The risk of dogs and cats being bitten by ticks may vary with the time of year.
Ticks may cause several problems when they bite, eg:
- They can transmit a number of serious potentially fatal diseases via their saliva. These include babesiosis (piroplasmosis), ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, borreliosis, rickettsial infections, and several viral diseases. It depends on where pets are in the world as to the importance of each disease.
- Severe skin reactions may occur around the site of a tick bite in sensitive animals.
- In certain areas of the world (eg Australia), some of the ticks produce a toxin which causes paralysis. Tick paralysis is a serious disease and can be fatal.
- Very occasionally when there are a large numbers of ticks attached to a cat, especially if the cat is small or young, blood loss may be severe enough to cause anemia.
Many of the diseases mentioned above may be difficult and expensive to treat. Some are also transmissible to humans. Most ticks are only noticed by owners when they have been active for around a week, and are large enough to see clearly. For these reasons, if there is any risk, it is very important to use tick control and prevention.