Ticks are well-known, easy to identify… and many misconceptions about them appear to be just as resilient as they can be. Here a few common myths regarding these infamous parasites, debunked once and for all.
Myth: Ticks are insects.
Adult insects all have six legs, and usually antennae or wings. Ticks actually belong to the arachnid family, which also includes spiders, scorpions and mites. Like the majority of adult arachnids, ticks have eight legs, and no antennae or wings.
Myth: Only dogs and cats that spend time in the woods can get ticks.
These parasites are attracted by the presence of food (animals they can latch onto), regardless of their environment. Even in urban settings, adult ticks are commonly found on plants, shrubs or tall grass. Unlike fleas, they can’t jump, but may cling to clothing or fur when a suitable host brushes against them. Younger tick specimens can hide underneath fallen leaves, and if your pet disturbs them as they’re digging, they may climb onto their paws.
Myth: In winter, ticks die because of the cold weather.
No matter how cold Canadian winters can be, ticks have learned to adapt in order to survive. According to parasiteprotection.ca, some species are found even in Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwestern Territories! Some ticks manage to keep warm by hiding underneath dead leaves in wooded areas, or even beneath the snow (which can insulate parasites against cold temperatures, just like it protects plants and grass). Others will spend the winter clinging to the fur and skin of wild animals to benefit from their body heat.
Finally, many ticks simply enter a dormant state in the heart of winter, and may become active again as soon as the weather rises above 4°C for a few hours. In December or February, short periods of mild temperature are very common.
Myth: By the time you notice a tick on your pet, they’ve already been infected.
While it’s true ticks can transmit bacteria, viruses and toxins responsible for many diseases, the process isn’t instantaneous. Once a tick attaches itself and starts to feed, it takes between 3 to 24 hours for transmission to occur, depending on the pathogen. This means they need to be removed promptly (and animals allowed to go outside should be checked regularly), but doing so isn’t an immediate, life-threatening emergency.
Myth: It’s dangerous to try to remove a tick by yourself.
Complications may arise if you end up twisting or jerking the tick as you attempt to pull it out, causing parts of it to remain in the skin. However, the correct technique is easy to learn, and most ticks can be removed safely at home.
To remove an attached tick, use tweezers to grab it as close to the skin as possible. Pull gently and steadily directly towards you until it comes out. Clean the bite wound using soap and water, and disinfect your tweezers with rubbing alcohol.