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November 15, 2020

Beware the ‘questing tick’

Educate yourself and clients about the lone star tick
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Although not a vector for the Lyme disease–causing Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium, the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) is no less a threat to public and animal health.

Lone star tick
The lone star tick, also known as “the questing tick” for its aggressive pursuit of potential hosts, is a vector for several human and animal diseases, including tularemia. (Photo by James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

“We talk a lot about ticks, but sometimes I think we overlook the lone star tick,” said veterinary technician Beckie Mossor during a presentation for the AVMA Virtual Convention 2020 this August.

Found throughout the eastern and southern United States, the lone star tick spreads several diseases, including tularemia in humans and dogs and cytauxzoonosis in cats. Ehrlichiosis—another disease transmitted by the tick—was diagnosed in more than 189,000 dogs in 2020, according to the Companion Animal Parasite Council.

“It’s actually really important that we identify these ticks so we know what diseases we’re dealing with,” Mossor said.

Adult A americanum females are easily recognizable by a white, starlike spot on their scutum. The life cycle of the lone star tick is three years, during which time a mature female can lay up to 8,000 eggs.

Clients’ knowledge about ticks tends to be very limited, Mossor added. They don’t realize ticks are part of the arachnid family and remain active during a mild winter. “I feel like people think ticks fall from trees or that you have to be deep in the forest and stray off the trail to pick up ticks,” she said.

Lone star ticks spend most of their time in the wild on the ground in leaves and in mulch. As the fastest member of the tick family, they are known as “the questing tick” for their habit of aggressively running toward a potential host. “When the client says, ‘Oh, I never go off the trail,’ I’m like, ‘Here’s a fun fact: Did you know the lone star tick can actually run you down?’” Mossor said.

To illustrate how quickly the tick moves, Mossor played a video showing dozens of them scurrying over blades of grass, their legs extending upward to seize a passing host. She advised playing the video for clients in the waiting area to get them thinking about the need for tick control products. Mossor said it may help because many pet owners believe the risk from ticks is low or nonexistent.

“What I tell clients is we know lone star ticks are generally transported by white-tailed deer. Then I ask if they have deer where they live, and a majority of them are going to say yes. Use this as a pushing off point to explain that the risks are real,” she explained.

This is an important conversation because it’s an opportunity to educate clients while also advocating for their pets.

“I know for a lot of people that conversation is touchy because we feel like our clients think we’re trying to sell them something,” Mossor said. But that’s not what this is.

“This is patient advocating,” she continued. “This is educating the client so that they never come back and say, ‘You didn’t tell me my pet could get sick. You didn’t tell me that these were lifelong diseases. You didn’t tell me they could kill my pet. You didn’t tell me there was a zoonotic concern—not between me and my dog but between me and these parasites.’

“This whole conversation needs to happen because that is what we do as advocates.”