None of us wants to find a tick on our dogs, other pets or ourselves. With the recent rise in temperatures, the number of ticks is also rising in our area. Besides the obvious “ick” factor, ticks are bad news because they may transmit diseases and can cause anemia or paralysis. As a dog owner, there are some basics you should know about the risks and prevention of ticks. With proper knowledge, you can help protect your dog from the threat of ticks.
Ticks are parasitic arthropods that feed on the blood of their hosts. They are attracted to warmth and motion, often seeking out mammals – including dogs. Ticks tend to hide out in tall grass or plants in wooded areas waiting for prospective hosts. Once a host is found, the tick climbs on and attaches its mouthparts into the skin, beginning the blood meal. Once locked in place, the tick will not detach until its meal is complete. It may continue to feed for several hours to days, depending on the type of tick. On dogs, ticks often attach themselves in crevices and/or areas with little to no hair – typically in and around the ears, the areas where the insides of the legs meet the body, between the toes, and within skin folds. Most species of ticks go through four life stages – eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adults. All stages beyond eggs will attach to a host for a blood meal. Depending on species, the life span of a tick can be several months to years, and female adults can lay hundreds to thousands of eggs at a time. The deer tick, brown dog tick, Lone star tick, and American dog tick are the most commonly seen in North America.
Though they are known vectors of disease, not all ticks transmit disease – in fact, many ticks do not even carry diseases. However, the threat of disease is always present where ticks are concerned, and these risks should always be taken seriously. Most tick-borne diseases will take several hours to transmit to a host, so the sooner a tick is located and removed, the lower the risk of disease. The symptoms of most tick-borne diseases include fever and lethargy, though some can also cause weakness, lameness, joint swelling and/or anemia. Signs may take days, weeks or months to appear. Some ticks can cause a temporary condition called “tick paralysis,” which is manifested by a gradual onset of difficulty walking that may develop into paralysis. These signs typically begin to resolve after tick is removed. If you notice these or any other signs of illness in your dog, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible so that proper testing and necessary treatments can begin. Some of the most common tick-borne diseases include Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Anaplasmosis, and Babesiosis.
To search for ticks on your dog, run your hands all over the body, paying close attention to the ears neck, skin folds and other crevices. You may prefer to wear latex gloves. Closely examine any raised areas closely by parting the hair, making sure you are in a very well-lit area (you can even use a flashlight). Depending on species and life stage, a tick may be as small as a pencil point or as large as a lima bean (when engorged). If you live in an area where ticks are prevalent, or your dog spends a lot of time in high grasses or wooded areas, you should check for ticks once or twice a day. If you find an embedded tick, call your veterinarian. DO NOT apply hot matches, nail polish, petroleum jelly, alcohol or other chemicals to the site. These methods are not affective and can actually be harmful to your dog.
The best way to protect your dog from the hazards of ticks is to keep them from attaching to your dog in the first place. As stated earlier, routine checks should be done to search for ticks on your dog. Finding them before they attach is helpful, but this is not the most accurate method of prevention. To reduce the number of ticks hiding out in your yard, keep grass mowed and plants neatly trimmed.
One of the most effective ways to keep ticks off your dog is to directly apply a tick prevention product specifically designed for dogs. A topical product like Frontline is designed to be applied monthly to prevent ticks. Do not use extra amounts of a product or apply more than one at the same time. Please be aware that some of these products are highly toxic to cats. Talk to your veterinarian about the best options for your dog’s lifestyle. With the proper knowledge, you can help defeat the dreaded tick and protect your dog, your family and yourself from the dangers of tick-borne diseases.