If you are new to the tropics and own a dog, you will shortly need to know about brown dog ticks. Rhipicephalus sanguineus are different from the paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus), well known in Queensland, or the cattle tick (Boophilus microplus). Brown dog ticks are not as life-threatening, but can cause an irritating skin condition when in large numbers.
The brown dog tick is a parasite of dogs in tropical and sub-tropical countries, including Australia. If you find ticks on your dog in the Northern Territory (NT), they are most likely to be brown dog ticks. Cattle ticks will also attach to dogs if they run in areas with cattle. You will find ticks attaching anywhere on a dog, but mostly where the dog cannot bite itself. Thus, ticks attach mainly along the back, on the neck, in the ears and between the toes. Heavy infestations do occur in the Top End of the NT, especially in the wet season.
In general, ticks will not attach to people.
The tick embeds its mouth parts into the skin and feeds on blood and lymph, until it is engorged. The blood loss in affected dogs can cause anaemia and they can become listless. Tick numbers will increase rapidly if dogs are left without treatment; very high tick infestations may kill dogs. The brown dog tick transmits the blood parasite Babesia canis, which causes a tick fever. Dogs raised in the Top End are generally not affected by this parasite due to their early exposure. However, introduced dogs or puppies are susceptible.
Ticks are excellent survivors. They lay large numbers of eggs and each stage can survive several months without feeding. They are most susceptible to strong sunlight, desiccation and very heavy rain.
There are four stages in the life cycle of the tick: egg, larva, nymph and adult. The adult female tick leaves the dog after it is fully engorged and seeks out a dark sheltered location to lay its eggs- all 4000 of them. This may be in leaf litter, soil or under your best lounge chair. The eggs hatch into reddish brown larvae, which are very small and difficult to see. They may be found crawling up walls. They attach to the dog and feed until engorged. Then they drop off the dog and molt to become nymphs. Nymphs are larger than larvae and can be distinguished by having eight legs instead of six. Nymphs also feed on blood until they are engorged and then drop off the host. They then develop into female or male adults.
The engorged female represents the largest and most obvious stage in the cycle. Engorged females are about 12 mm in length and are brown to blue/grey in colour, with dark brown legs. Male ticks are much smaller, shiny dark brown in colour and actively move about. They do not engorge like the females, but may be found close to females. All adult ticks have eight legs.
Ticks are out of control if you can see them crawling up your walls. If tick numbers are allowed to increase, control becomes a costly and prolonged exercise. Treat dogs when tick numbers are low and keep infestations low. This is especially important at the start of the wet season as numbers will rapidly build to plague proportions. The old saying “a stitch in time” is very true. To break the tick cycle, you need to control ticks, both on and off the dog.
Recommended actions for severe problems of ticks on dogs
We ask that before we arrive to treat your house and yard that you ensure that your home is clean: vacuum thoroughly, sweep and mop hard-surfaced floors, and clear the floor of debris. Please remove and store away all pet food bowls, Toys, Bones, Water buckets Cover all fish ponds/pots prior to treatment. For Tick and Flea Treatment grass is required to be mowed, and all faeces removed and all soil areas need to dampened prior to treatment
After these steps, Lightning Pest Control will do a treatment to infested locations within and outside of your home.
Lightning Pest Control may ask you to complete other tasks around your home in preparation for treatment. They can also give advice to you on ways to prevent future flea Out Breaks
Acknowledgement – NT Government and Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries for Agnote K16: The Brown Dog Tick