A tick bite during the summer months poses a real danger. This is a matter not to be underestimated for both our pets and humans themselves. Ticks are indeed highly dangerous insects that carry diseases and infections. The risks associated with tick bites are multiple, and in some cases, they can be quite severe.
In this article, we aim to understand the behavior of these bothersome insects and how to react correctly when encountering them. We will also explore preventive measures in the unfortunate event of a tick bite. Finally, we’ll look at the most common remedies for protecting pets, not only using conventional anti-parasitic treatments but also with the use of natural repellents that are safe for animals.
Ticks: The Main Species Found in Italy
Ticks are arachnid insects belonging to the class Arachnida, order Acarina (mites), and suborder Ixodida. Under this suborder, there are three families: Ixodidae, known as the hard tick (which is the most relevant family for our discussion); Argasidae, better known as the soft tick; and Nuttalliellidae, a less important family that includes only one species.
The Wood Tick
The most dangerous species for humans is Ixodes ricinus, commonly known as the wood tick.
In Italy, it is present with a certain intensity in all regions except for Sardinia, where sporadic occurrences are reported.
This tick species exhibits sexual dimorphism, with females being larger than males. Adult females have sizes ranging from 4 to 10 mm. They possess mouthparts that contain salivary glands emitting cementing, anticoagulant, and vasoconstrictor substances to aid in blood feeding. This tick goes through 3 developmental stages: larva, nymph, and adult. After each feeding, the tick detaches from the host animal, molts, and then seeks another host. In this species, adult males do not feed on blood.
The wood tick derives its name from its preferred habitat, which is the forest, especially humid and shaded areas, at altitudes up to 1,500 meters. It seeks refuge among bushes, low vegetation, and dry leaves in the undergrowth. It can also be found in transitional zones between the forest and uncultivated meadows, especially in less frequented areas where the presence of wild animals is more likely.
Larval stages remain at ground level and mainly parasitize small mammals like rodents or birds. Nymphs and adult females live on shrub leaves or grass stems. They drop from the vegetation onto passing animals to attach. They generally prefer larger mammals and can also readily attach to humans.
The Dog Tick
Another common and widespread species in Italy is commonly called the “dog tick”, Rhipicephalus sanguineus.
This species primarily targets animals, especially those with fur such as dogs and cats, on which it can remain attached for extended periods, feeding on their skin. On animals, it feeds on blood, completes its biological cycle, and reproduces.
Occasionally, it can also parasitize humans, primarily through contact with domestic animals.
The preferred habitat of the dog tick is close to its preferred victim’s shelter, for example, near or inside kennels, in the soil, in wall cracks, among stones.
As mentioned, tick bites, particularly those from wood ticks, are highly dangerous for humans. Apart from causing allergies due to the secretion of toxic substances in their saliva, the most significant risk is contracting various diseases.
Ticks act as vectors for microorganisms responsible for severe infections and specific diseases. During their feeding, ticks can transmit pathogens previously acquired from infected animals through regurgitation. The danger also increases with the feeding duration.
The primary diseases transmitted by wood tick bites that pose a threat to human health are Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis or TBE, and Mediterranean spotted fever.
Regarding tick bites from dog ticks (on humans), the primary pathogen this species can transmit is the causative agent of Mediterranean spotted fever. Other diseases are specific to dogs and other pets.
What to Do in Case of a Tick Bite
The main problem with a tick bite on humans lies in the subtle nature of the insect’s action. Generally, tick bites don’t cause itching or pain, so it’s possible to overlook them. The tick may remain attached to the skin for an extended period, increasing the risk of infection and diseases. It is essential to promptly remove the tick from the skin, following the appropriate precautions.
When dealing with a tick bite, the insect should be extracted from the skin without using chemicals or sources of heat. Additionally, it’s crucial not to crush the tick. These precautions are important because failing to follow them could lead to regurgitation, increasing the risk of pathogen transmission. To correctly remove the tick, specialized tweezers should be used. The tick should be grasped as close to the skin as possible. Once held, the tick should be pulled gently upward continuously, avoiding jerking or twisting motions. Of course, excessive squeezing should also be avoided to prevent breaking the tick’s head and rostrum, which could remain under the skin.
To facilitate this process, it’s advisable to use purpose-built tweezers designed for the task. Various types are available online, from simple options like these with ergonomic shapes for easy extraction, such as this type, and even more complex yet highly effective models like this one.
After removing the tick, it’s essential to immediately clean and disinfect the wound resulting from the bite, using protective latex gloves.
As mentioned, if the removal process is not conducted correctly, a part of the tick might remain under the skin. If the remaining part is minimal, this situation isn’t dangerous and usually resolves spontaneously within a few days. If a larger portion is left under the skin, seeking medical assistance promptly is necessary.
Subsequently, it’s important to monitor your health for at least a month. It’s crucial to recognize signs of infection or the transmission of infectious diseases. Paradoxically, preventive antibiotic treatments are not recommended, as they might mask infection signs and complicate diagnosis.
In any case, it’s advisable to inform your doctor to monitor your condition in the period following the tick bite.
Many experts suggest consulting a doctor only if specific infection symptoms appear. These could include skin rash, hives, significant swelling at the bite site, widespread edema, or difficulty breathing. Similarly, if evident toxic reactions occur, such as ascending paralysis (from legs to head), seeking medical attention is necessary.
Nevertheless, our advice is to always consult your healthcare provider. Sometimes, we might not be able to recognize infection signs, or we might unconsciously refuse to acknowledge them. Taking timely action with appropriate treatments is essential to avoid severe consequences. Therefore, hesitation should be avoided.
Protecting Our Pets from Tick Bites
So far, we’ve focused on the risks of tick bites to humans. However, as evident, our domestic animals are at greater risk of tick bites, infections, and diseases.
Typically, specific anti-parasitic treatments are used to protect dogs and cats from tick bites. However, these treatments often contain strong chemicals. Particularly for cats, there’s a high risk of side effects, as explained in our article on the use of pyrethroids.
Nonetheless, natural repellent products that are less aggressive are available on the market for pets, such as a neem-based product for dogs and this one for cats.
For complete protection, it’s essential to practice good hygiene and common sense for animals too. Keep your pets’ shelters as clean as possible. Additionally, inspect them regularly in areas of the body most prone to ticks (ears, paws, muzzle). If a tick bite occurs, follow the extraction methods outlined for humans. If problems arise, consult the nearest veterinary clinic.
- TandFOnline – Veterinary and Animal Science: “Tick-borne disease risks and livestock management” – This article delves into the relationship between tick-borne diseases and livestock management, highlighting the risks and preventive measures.
- TandFOnline – Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports: “Study on Prevalence of Hard Ticks and Their” – The study focuses on the prevalence of hard ticks, discussing their distribution, species variety, and potential health implications.
- TandFOnline – Expert Review of Anti-infective Therapy: “Tick transmission of toxoplasmosis” – This research article explores the role of ticks in the transmission of toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease affecting various mammals.
- TandFOnline – Infection Ecology & Epidemiology: “Long-term transmission dynamics of tick-borne” – The article discusses the long-term dynamics of tick-borne diseases, emphasizing the factors influencing transmission and spread.
- TandFOnline – Infection and Drug Resistance: “The Tick-Borne Diseases STING study: Real-time” – This study provides insights into real-time monitoring and analysis of tick-borne diseases, highlighting the importance of timely interventions.
- TandFOnline – Infection Ecology & Epidemiology: “On the potential roles of ticks and migrating birds in” – The article explores the potential roles of ticks and migrating birds in the transmission of certain diseases, emphasizing the ecological and environmental factors.
- TandFOnline – Emerging Microbes & Infections: “The emerging tick-borne pathogen Neoehrlichia” – This research focuses on the emerging tick-borne pathogen Neoehrlichia, discussing its characteristics, transmission, and potential health risks.
- TandFOnline – Infection Ecology & Epidemiology: “Migratory birds, ticks, and Bartonella” – The article delves into the relationship between migratory birds, ticks, and the Bartonella bacteria, highlighting the transmission dynamics and potential health implications.