We’ve all heard of them. Perhaps some of us have had the displeasure of finding one of these little critters attached to our skin or the skin of our pets. The very thought of these ectoparasites sends shudders up the spine. Yep – I’m talking about ticks!

Ticks are tiny arachnids, a class that includes spiders and mites, who characteristically feed on the blood of host animals, most commonly mammals and birds. Ticks lay eggs that give rise to the larval life stage. The larva will then develop into a nymph stage and ultimately grow to become an adult. Ticks feed on the blood of the host animal during each phase.

If this is not enough to make your skin shiver, ticks are also known to be carriers of many blood-borne bacterial pathogens. These pathogens can have significant health implications for the host animal including cats, dogs, and humans. Some of the illnesses that ticks cause include:

The ticks that are most directly at fault for transmitting these diseases are:

  • Black-legged tick (a.k.a Deer tick; Ixodes scapularis)
  • Brown Dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)
  • American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis)
  • Lone Star tick (Amblyomma American)

This Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) shows the distribution of the tick species in the USA (and Ohio) as well as provides pictures of the little critter for identification.

What can we do to protect ourselves and our furry little from ticks and the diseases that they carry? Try to control the parasites.

Dogs and cats should be on monthly tick preventatives, ideally all year around! These treatments will protect your pet, and as an extension humans, by decreasing the likelihood that pets will carry ticks into our yards and homes.

Also, there is a Lyme Disease vaccination available for canines to help protect dogs from the disease carried by the black-legged tick.

Be sure and check your dog or cat for ticks anytime he has been outdoors, especially after making excursions to the woods or parks (Metro and State). The use of a comb will help identification in a fluffy-coated breed.

When walking your pets in areas of concern for ticks, humans should wear appropriate clothing, including long socks and pants. Use of insect repellants is also helpful. Examine your skin and hair upon leaving the area for unwanted stowaways.

You also can do some things to protect your yard by creating an environment that will be less welcoming to ticks. Techniques include:

  • Mow lawns frequently
  • Keep landscaping free of tall grass and brush
  • Fence in your yard to prevent incursions by deer and other animals that carry ticks
  • Remove leaf litter and other refuse that could harbor ticks

Also, placing a three-foot swathe of wood chips or gravel between your lawn and wooded areas won’t keep ticks away, but it does serve as a visual reminder that you are entering the tick zone.

If you find a tick on yourself or your pet, here’s how the CDC recommends how to remove a tick.

Ticks are just one ectoparasite that can affect both human and pet alike. Being aware of their existence and how to prevent exposure will help avoid these unpleasant, disease-carrying critters altogether. – Peter Olson, DVM


Peter Olson, DVM, is a 2007 graduate of The Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine. He and his wife Beth share their home with two dogs, two cats, four turtles and a Russian Tortoise.

Photo Credit:  US Fish and Wildlife – Midwest