July 6, 2022
By: SPCA Vice President of Veterinary Services Melanie Rushforth
There is a universal belief that there is no better place to be in the summertime than Western NY. There are so many fun, recreational things to do, and the weather couldn’t be better. There are picnics and festivals and hiking opportunities galore.
And there are also ticks. And with ticks, there is the threat of Lyme disease.
There’s no reason for these pests to keep anyone inside during these warm months. Know what to do to avoid ticks, and you can set yourself up to keep enjoying summer as planned.
According to Cornell.edu, “Ticks are arachnids closely related to mites and spiders. They have four life stages: egg, larvae, nymph, and adult. All stages of ticks (except eggs) feed on blood for energy to grow and later to reproduce. Larval ticks have six legs, while nymph and adult ticks have eight legs. Three tick species are a human health concern in New York: the blacklegged tick, the lone star tick, and the American dog tick.”
The most common tick in WNY is the blacklegged, or deer tick. Cornell.edu tells us, “The blacklegged tick requires high humidity or moisture to survive. Therefore, this tick is most often found in the forest and at the forest edge where tree cover, dense vegetation and leaf litter provide a moist environment. This tick will search for hosts typically below adult knee-height by holding onto vegetation with their front legs out as hosts pass by, a behavior known as questing.”
A unique characteristic with ticks is that they don’t die in the cold winter months that are common in the WNY region. They merely demonstrate a behavior closely resembling hibernation. The question “Do ticks die in the winter?” is answered this way by Cornell.edu: “Ticks are adapted to the Northeast climate, having lived here for thousands of years. Therefore, they have behavioral and physiological adaptations that allow them to survive adverse conditions including winter cold and summer heat.”
During the cold winter months, there have been cases that describe just the heat from one’s body being enough to “wake up” the ticks on a forest floor should someone decide to sit to rest if out on a hike in the cold weather. Tick checks should just become as common as checking to see if your keys are in your pocket. Make it a habit and it will become one!
So, instead of burrowing in your home for the rest of the summer, let’s talk about some ways to make sure you and your furry friends don’t become the next home for a tick. Or, if that does happen, what you can do to stay safe and not get sick.
First, apply tick repellent to your skin and clothing, especially your shoes and socks. Wear long pants and pull your socks over your pant leg. When you’re out hiking or adventuring, stay on a trail. Ticks don’t jump or fly, but they will latch onto you from tall grasses by way of questing as mentioned earlier. All of those awesome smells your dog is finding when he runs off of the trail? There very well may be a tick lurking and waiting for the perfect furry host to grab onto.
When you come home, make sure you do a thorough tick check, focusing on your thighs, groin area and the back of your head. Then shower. Also, put the clothing you wore outside in the dryer at high heat for 10 minutes to kill any ticks that may be hiding. As far as searching for these little predators on your dog, check all over, but spend a little extra time on the warmer, darker parts of the dog, like the “armpits” and areas between toes. Feel for small bumps and look for little blacks dots.
Since dogs are much less likely to stay on the trail, ticks can hide in long hair and thick fur. Make sure you talk to your veterinarian about vaccines and other prevention methods. If you treat fleas and ticks as year-round issues, which they are, preventing the negative effects can be a breeze.
If you find a tick on yourself or your pet, use tweezers to pull it straight out. Position the tweezers directly under the spot where the tick is attached to the skin and pull upward with steady pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick. Upon removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite site with rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer. Should this sound too intimidating, contact your veterinarian immediately upon finding a tick. Time is important, because ticks get busy quickly.
While we encourage all cat owners to keep their cats indoors at all times because of all of the hazards that cats can encounter outside, should you have a cat that does go outside (or your share your home with a dog that gets along with the cat), you should be checking for ticks on your cat as well. Lyme disease is not as big a concern for cat owners as it is for humans and dog owners. Cornell.edu says, “Although the bacteria that cause Lyme disease is capable of infecting cats, the disease has never been seen in a cat outside of a laboratory setting.”
In short, don’t let ticks ruin your fun at any point in the year. Just begin a preventative regime with your pets (talk to your veterinarian about what would be best for you, because there are a lot of great options!) and be aware of where to look once you get back from an outdoor adventure.
An unsuspecting ally in the war on ticks is also our friend the opossum. Should you see these little guys in your yard, don’t fret! In fact, celebrate them. Opossum are slow-moving and attract ticks that cling to their fur. The opossum then eat the ticks, along with just about anything else. Given the low body temperature of the opossum, these animals are very unlikely to carry rabies. Next time you see an opossum moving through your yard, just give him a nod. He’s there to help.
Stay safe out there!