By Shirley Bittner
Parasites are one of those things that people tend to avoid in polite conversation. It’s just not good table manners to talk about creatures that feed off something’s precious bodily fluids. But instead of skirting around this unsavoury topic, let’s smack the thing head-on!
This hot summer is perfect for everyone’s favourite Lyme-y loafers: ticks. Unlike mosquitoes and fleas who drink and dash, the tick enjoys a much more committed relationship. Unfortunately, like all parasites, ticks have a tendency to carry nasty diseases, so it’s important to know how you and (more importantly) your pets can avoid these little blood-suckers.

First off, why are ticks so bad? Sure, they’re icky, but the main danger of the little guys is the illnesses they tend to bring around with them. Of the 650 different species of ticks in the world, there are only about six or seven types in North America worth being worried about, and you can find tips for identifying them here. Lyme disease, which causes inflammation and fever, is the classic tick-borne plague. It’s dangerous if left untreated, but if caught it’s perfectly curable with antibiotics. Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Babesiosis are two other tick-borne illnesses, unpleasant but curable if caught early enough.
An ounce of prevention is worth its weight in tacos. Luckily, there are specially designed tick repellent products for both cats and dogs, ranging from salves to sprays to collars. While these products get the job done, they are rather toxic (they have to stop ticks somehow) and should be used to the letter of their instruction. The bad news is that other than good ol’ fashioned chemicals, the only way to keep your pets clear of ticks is to check them regularly.
Should you discover a tick on your beloved pet, it’s important to know how to properly deal with it. The average tick is a single-minded thing, and even when it’s being pulled off, it will try its best to keep its face buried in the sweet buffet of your pet’s blood. In fact, if it’s pulled off improperly, the body will come off, but the tick’s head will remain thoroughly embedded in the skin, possibly resulting in infection. Contrary to some popular beliefs, holding a match under a tick or smothering it in alcohol is not a good thing. It’ll only tick the tick off, and while a ticked off tick will probably let go, it’ll make sure to spit in the hole it’s made, increasing the risk of transmitting a potential illness to your pet.
The proper way to remove a tick is with tweezers (preferably the specialized anti-tick ones for sale at most pet stores). Pinch as close to the skin as possible, and then pull with steady force. Alternatively, just go to a vet and have them do it. That way, they can run some tests on the tick to see if it was carrying anything nasty. If you do remove the offending bloodsucker at home, it’s always a good idea to preserve it in alcohol and bring it to a vet for testing.
Ticks, and all parasites, are yucky. It’s a fact of life. But gross things still happen, and ignoring them won’t make them go away. If you have a very outdoorsy cat or dog, do them the courtesy of checking for ticks every now and again. More often than not, ticks are harmless. Like mosquitoes, the vast majority don’t carry the disease they’re famous for, but it’s never a bad thing to double check. Just don’t start checking Fluffy for the little bloodsuckers over dinner.
By Alexander Bentley