Q: My cats and dogs don’t seem to notice when ticks are embedded in their skin. A tick bit me yesterday, and I felt nothing, even though the tick was securely attached when I discovered it. Why don’t we feel tick bites?
A: Ticks drink blood, and in the process, they transmit more diseases than any other vector except mosquitos. Ticks spread bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi and even worms to mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.
Ticks mask their bites and hang on long enough to ensure they get a full blood meal by using several extraordinary tricks. First, they inject an anesthetic that numbs the skin, so you and your pets don’t feel the bite. Then they slash the skin to create a pool of blood. Anticoagulants in tick saliva prevent the blood from clotting so the tick can drink it.
Ticks produce cement to remain attached for days and anti-inflammatory substances that suppress the host’s grooming behavior, which would dislodge the tick. They also excrete chemicals that slow the host’s immune response.
Ticks feed prior to laying eggs or molting to the next stage in their life cycle. An adult female ingests up to 8 ml of the host’s blood, or 1.6 teaspoons, which is 100 times her body weight. She excretes the excess water from the blood back into the host through her salivary glands or by regurgitation—along with any pathogens ingested during a previous blood meal from an infected animal.
To protect your pets from these pathogens, ask your veterinarian to recommend a product that repels or kills ticks. The most popular options include a chewable tablet given every one to three months, a liquid applied to the skin every one to three months, or a collar worn at all times.
Editor’s Note: Warmer weather increases the risk for Lyme Disease, an illness that is carried by the deer tick. Here we’ll review the signs and symptoms of Lyme Disease, and tips for how to prevent it from affecting you and your dog.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.