Background

Ticks are parasites and well known as potential vectors for animal diseases, including zoonotic diseases, which are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people. Tickborne disease transmission often works like this; a tick bites an infected animal and can pick up a disease agent (examples include virus or bacteria), the tick detaches to develop into the next life stage, finds another animal to feed upon, and infects it with the disease agent, thus moving the disease from one animal to another. The best way to stop this vectorborne disease cycle is through a strong surveillance program and prevention measures. Livestock owners, veterinarians and other animal caretakers are our first line of defense in stopping ticks from spreading disease.

Reporting and submitting ticks

Ticks are commonly found throughout Minnesota, so you should not be alarmed if you find a low number of ticks attached to your animal. However, some types of ticks may spread disease and some types of ticks may be considered invasive in this state. It is important to increase awareness and understanding of the different types of ticks affecting Minnesota’s livestock and other animals. Veterinarians, livestock producers, pet owners, and any other member of the public are encouraged to submit ticks to the Minnesota Department of Health Vectorborne Diseases Unit. In particular, if you find an unusual type of tick or severe tick infestation on your animal(s), please submit the tick(s) for identification using the MDH Tick Submission Form [click here to access the form]. If you’re concerned about a tick infestation or tick diseases impacting livestock or other animals, please reach out to your veterinarian.

Prevention

Ticks of highest importance in Minnesota spend most of their lives out in the environment. As such, they are susceptible to freezing and drying out, so they need a warm, humid and sheltered environment to survive and thrive. Pasture management is the first step to reducing tick habitat. Keep grass short and be mindful of where you graze your animals, avoiding areas like tall grasses, forests and field edges when possible. Controlling grass height and grazing animals in lower risk areas can be an effective way to reduce risk.

Don’t forget to regularly look over your animals. A quick and simple tick check can go a long way in monitoring any problems before they compound. Common areas to find ticks on livestock include beneath the tail, along joints, under skin folds, and inside or around ears. If an animal in your herd is found to have an unusual amount of ticks, you should consider separating it from the herd to reduce any risks of tick transmission and allow your veterinarian to assess its overall health. Livestock owners should also remove ticks promptly anytime they’re discovered on an animal. Ticks can’t move great distances by themselves and need a host to carry them more than a few feet. Removing ticks is a two-fold benefit because it prevents tick bites (and potential diseases), and prevents ticks from being spread to new locations.

Also, make sure fencing is in good repair to help reduce the likelihood of wild animals in your pasture because they can carry ticks. In general, this is a best practice of farm biosecurity because wild animals carry many diseases and vectors that can infect domestic animals.

Anecdotally, individuals have found some success using chickens or other poultry as a way to reduce tick numbers on their property because ticks are a natural food source for the birds.

There are also a variety of safe and effective tick repellents available for livestock and companion animals in forms like dips, sprays, skin applications, and oral medications. You should consult with your veterinarian to discuss effectiveness, timing of application and safety of these products for your animal(s). Another concern beyond the tick itself is the diseases it can carry. There are Lyme disease vaccines available for dogs and you should consult your veterinarian if interested.

Surveillance

The Board of Animal Health has no official tick surveillance program in place for Minnesota’s livestock population. Instead, the Board strongly encourages, and relies upon, animal health professionals and owners to be proactive in looking for ticks as part of routine interaction with animals. This can be as simple as looking over a cow while milking, or examining a sheep’s coat after shearing.

The Board also collaborates with the Minnesota Department of Health Vectorborne Disease Unit, which monitors human cases of tickborne disease and regularly conducts tick surveillance throughout the state.

Ask an expert

The Minnesota Department of Health has expert epidemiologists who can identify tick species. You can contact the MDH Vectorborne Diseases Unit at 651-201-5414 or health.bugbites@state.mn.us. Visit www.health.state.mn.us/ticks for information on ticks, tickborne diseases and how to prevent tick bites. The University of Minnesota Department of Entomology is another great resource for tick advice and information. You can email munde001@umn.edu with questions about ticks or visit www.entomology.umn.edu.

Ticks of concern

  • Longhorned Tick. This tick is an invasive species from Asia, New Zealand and Australia. It is capable of causing severe tick infestations and carrying tickborne disease agents. The longhorned tick was recently discovered on the mainland U.S. in New Jersey in November 2017. It has also been found in Virginia, West Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Kentucky, Tennessee and Delaware as of August 2019.
  • Blacklegged Tick (Deer Tick). The blacklegged tick is well known in the state and is monitored by the Minnesota Department of Health’s tick surveillance program. Lyme disease is most often associated with this tick, and it can also carry other diseases like anaplasmosis. Blacklegged ticks can be moved around via animal hosts, like mice, deer, birds and other wildlife, but need to be in or near wooded and brushy habitat to survive. They’re most active in the late spring, early summer and fall, which is when producers should increase their surveillance and prevention efforts for all species of ticks.
  • Cattle Tick. This tick has been found in southern Texas and has a great impact on livestock like cattle and horses. It typically moves around via its preferred host, cattle, which is why veterinary inspections and tracked animal movements are important. Cattle are routinely transported around the U.S. as part of livestock operations, and this provides a risk for ticks to be introduced into new areas. The cattle tick is also capable of potentially transmitting diseases (e.g., bovine babesiosis) that can have an enormous impact on the health and productivity of livestock species.
  • Lone Star Tick. This tick is commonly found in the southern U.S. but its distribution range has been expanding northward in recent years. Rare and sporadic reports of lone star ticks have been reported in Minnesota, but this tick is not widely established in the state. The lone star tick is capable of spreading certain diseases, like ehrlichiosis, to animals and humans.
  • American Dog Tick (Wood Tick). This tick is commonly found throughout Minnesota and may be found in grassy or wooded habitat. It is most active during the spring and early summer and can spread diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia; however, these diseases are rarely reported in Minnesota.
Overview of tick lifestages from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Image courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Resources for Veterinarians

View this embedded video to learn what veterinarians need to know about the Longhorned tick and other ticks of concern in Minnesota.