Help Your Pets Avoid These Skin-Crawling Encounters With Ticks

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By Tori Houle, Junior Editor for IDEXX's Pet Health Network. Reviewed by Dr. Robert M. DuFort, DVM, DACVIM

As the weather gets cooler, some dog parents may think that the threat of tick and mosquito-borne parasites is lower. But the truth is that just because the temperature is dropping, doesn't mean tick season is over. That's why we thought this might be the perfect time to collect some of our veterinary experts' best (read: worst!) tick stories in time for Halloween. Are you up for a Halloween fright? Read on, if you dare ...

1. The army of ticks

This "delightful" story comes from Dr. Mike Paul, DVM. Over email, he explained that one spring day he and his wife were called by a panicking pet parent who claimed "ticks were attacking her." The Pauls went to her home and were astonished at what they saw. This woman was not exaggerating, says Dr. Paul. "We were able to see not a lot of ticks, but hundreds of ticks moving like an ancient army across the parking area. I have never seen so many free living ticks in an open environment."

2. Is that a quarter in your ear?

This next creepy crawler story is from Dr. James Blacka, DVM. Dr. Blacka was called in for a second opinion on a cat that had surgery a week earlier to remove a small mass from the outside of the ear. Dr. Blacka explained, "I, of course, was certain that it was just going to be a scab or oozing from the surgery site before walking into the room." Unfortunately, that was not what he found. The pet owner explained that there had been a mass forming inside the ear for the past few days and it was growing quickly and getting darker.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Yup - I shudder to say the cat had an engorged tick that was just a little smaller than a quarter, near the ear canal. Dr. Blacka remembers, "I showed the owner, by pulling back the ear and letting her see the little legs kicking alongside of [a] tick that was incredibly engorged with blood." The pet parent, not surprisingly, got lightheaded and had to sit down, giving Dr. Black a a chance to safely pull the tick free.

3. Tiny tick is big monster

Dr. Ernie Ward, DVM lived "a veterinarian's nightmare" in this terrifying tale. Dr. Ward told me that he had admitted a dog for unknown lethargy that had rapidly progressed to paralysis. All of the initial testing was normal, and the dog was said to be on flea and tick preventives. What happened next, according to Dr. Ward?

I called the owner and expressed my concerns. I recommended referral to a university neurologist. The owner agreed and made arrangements to pick up the dog after he finished work. I secretly hoped the dog would last the four to five hours until his owner arrived. I entered the hospital [room] and sat down beside the frightened canine. I ran my finger through his fur and tried my best to ease his fear. I couldn't imagine how confused and petrified he must be. As I gently massaged his back, I felt a small scab. I absentmindedly picked at the mass, only to have it break off in my hand. On my fingertip lay a small tick. Miraculously, I had my answer to the dog's ailment.

The helpless hound was suffering from something called tick paralysis, a condition that can be fatal. What's even scarier? Tick paralysis can also affect people - especially children.

Dr. Ward had found this tick in time. With trembling hands, he called the family with the good news. After Dr. Ward discovered that the pooch was, in fact, not on flea and tick prevention, he expressed 3 morals to this story:

  • "Never give up on a patient"
  • "Sometimes the tiniest critters can cause the biggest threats"
  • "It's easier to prevent problems rather than treat them"

4. Ticks crawling up the walls

The next story comes from James W. Marshall, DVM. Dr. Marshall said there was a practice located in an upper-middle class neighborhood that also offered boarding. The pets in this neighborhood were generally given the best care and the people there didn't think tick control was important because they supposedly didn't see ticks like a lot of other practices do, until one day.

Two golden retrievers were admitted to the practice for boarding, but they weren't the only two living things admitted that day. Dr. Marshall said "after a period of several days, the staff began to notice that there were ticks on the dogs and ticks now crawling up the walls of the kennel." Are you squirming yet? I am.

It seems the two new arrivals had brought brown dog ticks into the practice. Brown dog ticks are a little different than other tick species, because their entire lifecycle can be completed indoors, and the dog can serve as the host for all stages of the tick life cycle. It took multiple insecticide applications for the practice to control the problem.

What was learned? No matter where you are or what month it is, you should always be using a tick preventive!

Check our disease map to see which tick-borne diseases are in your area. Or learn about six tick-borne diseases you should know about.

5. Unexpected dinner guests

Our last creepy experience comes again from Dr. Mike Paul, DVM.

A client of Dr. Paul's was hosting a dinner party for some friends, however, some guests decided to show up without an invite. One dinner guest noticed something crawling on the floor. Yup, you guessed it - ticks, and a lot of them. Dr. Paul explained, "This client had been aggressive about flea and tick control, but unfortunately too late." The tick colonies were already so well-settled, an exterminator had to be brought in to completely treat and tent the house.

Don't let this be your dinner party, talk to your veterinarian about ticks and comprehensive screening for tick-borne parasites.