Reviewed and updated for accuracy on December 27, 2018 by Dr. Hanie Elfenbein, DVM, PhD
Sure, we all know ticks are a nuisance, but do you really know what they are and what they can do? Here are 10 facts about ticks that you probably didn't know.
1. Ticks have four life stages: egg, larva (infant), nymph (immature) and adult (mature). All stages except the egg need to feed on a host, or else the tick will die. At each stage, most ticks die before they are able to find a host.
2. Ticks are arachnids. This means that they are more closely related to spiders and scorpions than insects. At the larva stage, ticks only have six legs, but they have eight at the nymph and adult stages.
3. It can take up to three years for a tick to mature to the adult stage and reproduce.
4. Ticks may appear as small dark specks on your pet's fur (larva stage). These can be hard to find, which is a good reason to provide your pet with prescription flea and tick prevention.
5. Ticks feed on the blood of their hosts—humans, birds, reptiles, and wild and domestic mammals. Many tick species prefer to feed on different hosts at different life stages, though some (like the Brown Dog Tick) may feed on one host species.
6. There almost 900 tick species. Ninety of these are found in the continental United States, many of which are capable of transmitting diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Alpha-gal. Transmitted by the Lone Star tick, Alpha-gal causes an allergy to red meat in humans but does not cause illness in dogs or cats.
7. Tick infestations are more common in dogs than cats. They are also easier to prevent since there are more FDA-approved products to kill ticks on dogs than on cats. Some tick-prevention products are not safe to use around cats, so be sure to discuss the best preventative with your veterinarian.
8. Ticks are not born with disease agents. They acquire them during feeding and pass them along to other animals during subsequent feedings. Many diseases are only transmitted after many hours of feeding. Most tick prevention takes advantage of that time lapse and kills the tick faster than the tick can transmit disease.
9. Pets (and humans) may contract multiple diseases from a single tick bite. These diseases can be very serious and even fatal. The tick that your dog carries into the house can bite you and spread disease.
10. Never remove a tick with your bare hand, and never twist to remove it. Instead, use tweezers or special tick-removal instruments, such as TickEase tweezers, to grasp the tick close to the skin and pull it out gently. It is important not to leave the head embedded in the skin.
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