How ticks can harm animals

Ticks are external parasites that live on the skin or the fleece of livestock. It’s important to know about their effects on your animals.

How ticks can harm animals
Rhipicephalus appendiculatus, the brown ear tick, feeding on the ear of a cow. Ticks not only cause discomfort, but can cause disease, leading to a loss of production.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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Ticks are a significant threat to livestock for a number of reasons. One of these is that they cause loss of blood.

Ticks feed on blood and each tick sucks not fewer than 30 drops of blood to complete its life cycle. Loss of blood results in retarded growth and loss of weight.

READ A herd health and production management plan

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Other problems caused by these external parasites are the following:

  • Tick worry: A tick bite leads to discomfort for the animal. The animal gets irritated and does not graze well. This in turn affects its weight gain and milk supply.
  • Toxins: The saliva of ticks contains toxins that are released into the body of the animal, affecting its general health and productivity.
  • Wounds: When ticks attach themselves to the animal, their mouthpieces damage the skin. If they detach themselves, they leave wounds through which bacteria can enter the body and bloodstream, and cause disease in various organs. If the animal is slaughtered, the meat may be contaminated and will then be condemned.
  • Screw-worm strike: The wound left behind by the tick is an ideal site for screw-worm infestation, which is very difficult to cure.
  • Loss of the distal end of the tail: This is caused by clusters of ticks biting off the tail brush, which deprives the animal of the swish with which it whisks off irritating flies and biting insects.
  • Damage to the hide: As the mouth of the tick pierces the skin, it leaves permanent markings. These reduce the value of the hide when it is processed for the manufacture of leather goods.

Many animal diseases, such as theileriosis, heartwater, redwater, gallsickness and sweating sickness in calves, are transmitted by ticks.

Infestation can be controlled by dipping animals regularly and applying the best agricultural practices in managing the veld and using grazing rotation.

As always, remember that prevention is better than cure.

Source: ‘Livestock – the effects of ticks on animals’.