Guide: Massive Tick Populations May Threaten You and Your Pet

PetMD Editorial
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PetMD Editorial
Published: April 17, 2014
Guide: Massive Tick Populations May Threaten You and Your Pet

Smart pet parents know that time outside is tick time for pets, and, unfortunately, research now shows that these parasites are only getting worse. Experts say multiple factors are leading to larger, hungrier and more dangerous tick populations.

Despite the current onslaught from ticks, there is help in sight. Knowing the facts, understanding the potential dangers of some treatments and treating your pets with both traditional and natural tick repellent alternatives will help support your pets during tick season. But, most importantly, these tips can keep them safe.

Why are tick populations exploding?

Many factors are contributing to a sharp rise in tick populations - especially further in the northern U.S. The major problems are:

  • Climate change and warmer winters: With warmer winters, ticks are able to reproduce more and survive longer. Normally, long, deep freezes help keep ticks at bay, but since long cold snaps are not as common tick populations are thriving.
  • Suburbanization: bringing together people, pets, wildlife and ticks: Ticks are opportunistic and willing to feed on anything that crosses their path. With humans and their pets advancing on wildlife’s terrain, and wildlife becoming more comfortable interacting with people, tick exposure is becoming much more common.
  • Increased populations of deer: Deer have started to enter people’s backyards and public parks more frequently, and unfortunately they have plenty of ticks with them. This means ticks are finding plenty of blood to help them feed, survive, and reproduce.
  • Migratory birds carrying ticks to new areas: Ticks are no strangers to air travel, and with houses infringing on migratory birds’ nests, they are finding it easier to find one-way tickets to people’s backyards.

(Not So) Fun Facts About Ticks

  • Ticks are small arachnids with eight legs - making them close relatives to spiders and scorpions.
  • There are two families of ticks found in North America, Ixodidae (hard ticks) and Argasidae (soft ticks).
  • There are more than 800 species of hard and soft ticks in North America.
  • A female tick can lay between 300 and 3,000 eggs over the course of its life.
  • Lyme Disease, probably the most famous tick-borne disease, was named after the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme, Connecticut, where the disease was first identified in 1975.


Tick-Borne Diseases and Symptoms

Symptoms: One of the most dangerous traits of ticks is the wide variety of diseases they carry. Since they can transmit more than one disease to the host at a time, it’s difficult to identify and treat illness after a tick bite.  It is advised to check your pets regularly for ticks, and to watch for any sign of illness after a bite, including:

  • Fever
  • Coughing or Respiratory Problems
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or Joint Pain
  • Altered Mental State
  • Paralysis

Major tick-borne diseases: Tick-borne diseases can be separated into four major categories, including bacterial, viral, protozoan and toxic. (If you feel your pet is suffering from any tick-borne illness, take them to your veterinarian immediately.)


  • Lyme Disease or Borreliosis
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • Relapsing fever
  • Typhus
  • Ehrlichiosis anaplasmosis
  • Tularemia


  • Tick-borne meningoencephalitis
  • Colorado tick fever


  • Babesiosis
  • Cytauxzoonosis


  • Tick paralysis

Image: D. Kucharski K. Kucharska / via Shutterstock

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