These leathery, oval reddish-brown to dark-brown pests can range in size from 1/16 to 1/8 inch before feeding. Ticks are most likely to be discovered after the host has walked through tall grass or vegetation, especially at the end of summer or in fall. On humans, they are usually found where skin is exposed. On pets, they are most often on the ears or neck. In some instances a rash may break out at the site of the bite.
These blood-sucking pests (members of the Ixodidae family) are related to spiders. Ticks feed on humans, dogs, cats, and other animals by sinking their mouthparts and heads into the flesh of their hosts. If left undisturbed they may continue to suck blood for as many as 15 days before dropping off. Severely infested dogs may become weak and even die if ticks are not removed. Ticks can live for up to 18 months without food or water. Lyme disease is a very serious ailment spread mainly by the deer tick (Ixodes dammini), although other tick species have also been found to be vectors for the disease. The bacterium that causes the disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, is a spirochete that affects large warm-blooded animals, causing joint stiffness, neurological problems, or both. In many cases, tick bites and the rash that accompanies them go unnoticed. Only when serious health problems appear, months to years later, is Lyme disease diagnosed. Even then, it is often mistaken by doctors unaccustomed to seeing it for arthritis or a cold.
Treat pets with tick repellents during tick season. Inspect your body and clothing for ticks. Remove ticks by pulling them straight out with tweezers. Do not attempt to remove ticks by using a lighted cigarette, flame, or alcohol.