During that afternoon hike, you or your pup may have picked up unwanted company. Ticks are masters of the ambush, waiting in grass, leaves or bushes to catch a ride to supper. They'll drop off when they've had their fill, without so much as a thank you.
Tick ISO Dog
A tick is quite the determined little critter, seeking out potential hosts by sensing body heat, vibrations and moisture, as well as breath and body odor. He's adept at choosing the right spot to affix himself to his hosts, such on the tips of shrubs and grasses on a well-traveled path. Contrary to popular belief, a tick can't fly or jump, so he waits in position for his chosen host. The position is called "questing." A questing tick hangs onto his chosen perch with his third and fourth pair of legs; his first pair of legs are extended, waiting for his ride. When Dexter walks by and brushes the tick's leaf or blade of grass, he picks up the tiny passenger who quickly climbs on his new host. If he's happy with his seat, the tick will quickly attach himself to Dexter; if not, he'll wander, looking for a spot with thinner skin, such as an ear.
Life of an Unwelcome Guest
The full life cycle of a tick includes egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph and adult. A tick must feed -- meaning eat blood -- at each stage in order to survive and progress to the next stage. It can take as little as two months or as long as three years for a tick to complete his life cycle, and many ticks die because they can't find a host for the next feeding. Some varieties of ticks go through several nymph stages before developing into an adult in their final molt. Most ticks prefer to have a different host in each life stage.
The First Two Stages
The tick's first feeding stage as a six-legged larva usually occurs in late summer. Common hosts for this stage include squirrels, mice and birds; this is the stage ticks commonly pick up diseases such as Lyme disease. After feeding for several days, he'll drop off his host, return to the ground and molt into a nymph. When molting is complete and the tick is ready to feed, he'll look for a larger host, such as a raccoon, and invite himself for supper again. Nymphs are inactive during the winter and feed in the spring.
The Last Supper
The final transition begins after the nymph tick drops off his second host and molts into an adult tick during the summer. For his third supper, the tick will look for a larger host, such as a deer, Dexter or even you. When he's finished eating, the tick will drop off his host and spend the fall mating. If the tick is a male, he'll die; if she's female, she'll survive the winter to lay her eggs in spring.
Checking Dexter for Ticks
Instead of waiting for that tick to fall off Dexter, take a few minutes to check him for ticks after he's been outside in grassy, leafy or wooded areas. Slowly run your fingers over his entire body, checking bumps or swollen areas for ticks. Don't forget to look between his toes, in his ears, around his face and under his arms. If you find a tick, it's fairly easy to remove him from Dexter. Wearing gloves and using tweezers, grasp the tick as close to Dexter's skin as possible without pinching your pup. Gently pull the tick outward in a straight, steady motion; make sure you remove the whole tick, as anything left behind can cause an infection. It's wise to save the tick in a small bottle of isopropyl alcohol -- if Dexter shows signs of tick-borne illness, the dead tick can help the vet with diagnosis.
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