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As we begin to make our plans for summer, it’s important to remember that although ticks are a threat year-round, they are especially a problem during warm weather, as pets and people venture into parks and open spaces to hike, picnic, and enjoy the sun.

This is a problem that can affect you and your family, even if you follow tick precautions when hiking. There are likely to be ticks in your yard or other common areas where you aren’t accustomed to suiting up in anti-tick wear. And, a disgorged tick can fall from your pet in your home and later hitch a ride on you, transmitting diseases in the process.

And yeah, they are just plain GROSS!

If you keep your cats indoors, you’re unlikely to have a problem (unless you also have dogs that venture outside). If you have outdoor cats, you should inspect them frequently for ticks. I like to schedule a quick grooming session a few days a week to check for ticks, abscesses and tender spots. If your cats sleep with you, you may want to inspect them daily, lest you find a tick in your bed. (Yes, it does happen — and I shudder to admit that it’s happened to me!)

Most often, you will feel the tick before you can see it. Depending on the type of tick and how engorged it is, it will be roughly the size of a large ladybug and feel like a hard bump or scab on the skin. If you think you feel a tick, put on a pair of latex gloves before exploring further. If possible, enlist the aid of a “cat wrangler” to hold the cat while you part the fur to search for the tick. Click here for instructions on tick removal.

The longer a tick is attached, the more likely an infection will occur, so it’s important to take steps to prevent a tick infestation in your cats as well as monitor them to ensure they are tick-free.

As promised, here are the thirteen things you absolutely need to know about ticks:

  1. Ticks surpass all of the arthropods in the number and variety of diseases which they transmit to domestic animals. Only mosquitoes transmit more diseases to humans.
  2. Ticks are small arachnids. Although they’re commonly mistaken as insects, they only have 1 body part and 8 legs.
  3. Ticks are important vectors of a number of diseases, including Lyme disease.
  4. Ticks are often found in tall grass and shrubs where they will wait to attach to a passing host by climbing to the tips of plants and attaching themselves as the animal brushes against them.
  5. Physical contact is the only method of transportation for ticks; they do not jump or fly, although they may drop from their perches and fall onto a host.
  6. Ticks possess a sensory apparatus called ‘Haller’s organ.’ This structure senses odor, heat, and humidity. This is how the ticks locate their food source. They climb upon tall grass and when they sense an animal is close by, they crawl on.
  7. A tick’s diet consists solely of blood.
  8. Ticks feed on rodents, rabbits, birds, deer, cats, dogs, reptiles and humans.
  9. When feeding, ticks make a small hole in the skin and attach themselves with a modification of one of the mouthparts which has teeth that curve backwards, and insert barbed piercing mouthparts to remove blood.
  10. The tick’s saliva helps keep the blood flowing by keeping it from clotting while the tick is feeding. In many ticks, the saliva also acts like cement, helping to anchor the tick in place and making it harder for you to remove it.
  11. Most tick bites are harmless, but some ticks carry diseases that can spread to people, including Lyme disease. The primary vector of Lyme disease is the deer tick.
  12. Ticks are also transmitters of a disease called tick paralysis. A toxin from the tick is transmitted to the victim while the tick is engorging.
  13. Adult ticks have been known to live for as long as 200 days without eating. (What’s their secret???)

Tomorrow on The Cat’s Meow: How to Remove Ticks Safely.

[SOURCE: Tick Info: Cornell University: Teachers Resource Guide: Parasites. Compiled by Meagan Cooney, mac239@cornell.edu, 2007; photo:e-how.com]