Tick Talk - Dogs and Tick Control
Ticks are small, biting parasites that feed on blood and are typically most active from spring through fall. They are most commonly found in wooded areas. Ticks come in many different varieties that not only look different, but also live in different regions and environments. They can transmit different types of diseases to both people and animals.
Ticks are actually small arachnids that can range in size from less than 2mm before feeding, to the size of a raisin after feeding. Ticks feed on the blood of animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, deer, cattle, sheep, and humans. Only the female ticks feed on blood because they need it to lay their eggs. Female ticks can lay around 2000 eggs, after which they will die. Ticks cannot fly or jump. Instead, they crawl into the undergrowth and long grasses where they can attach to animals as they walk by.
Ticks are most commonly found in wooded areas and fields of long grass. Tick populations are increasing due to multiple factors - changing weather patterns, increased development in rural areas, and increasing populations of deer. As a result, pet owners are starting to find ticks in previously unaffected areas.
Common Tick Species in the US
While there are hundreds of species of ticks in North America, five are frequently found to affect mammals in the United States. These are the deer tick, American dog tick, lone star tick, brown dog tick, and Western black-legged tick.
Ticks can be divided into two groups, sometimes called hard ticks and soft ticks. Hard ticks, like the common American dog tick, have a hard shield just behind their mouthparts. Soft ticks do not have a hard shield. Soft ticks prefer to feed on birds and bats and are seldom found on dogs and cats. For more information on the identification and distribution of ticks in the US, check out this Tick Identification Guide.
Tick-borne diseases are not caused by the ticks themselves, but by bacteria or parasites that may be found in the tick’s saliva.
Where do ticks live?
Ticks can be found in many regions around the world. They tend to be higher in woody and grassy areas where their food sources live, including deer, birds, rabbits, lizards, squirrels, mice, and other rodents. They can also be found on beaches and urban areas.
If you have a yard at home, ticks can settle down in overgrown patches, woodpiles, and bird feeders. Whenever you are playing, gardening, or doing yard work, you could be exposed to a tick. Take the necessary precautions to avoid getting bit.
And, as we mentioned above, they will not only bite your pets, they can also bite humans and transmit a long list of diseases.
Common Diseases Caused by Ticks
Ticks spread disease by passing bacteria, viruses, and parasites to their host. Some of the symptoms of a tick-borne illness include fever, headaches, chills, and muscle aches.
Anaplasmosis is a disease that occurs in dogs and is transmitted by ticks. Infection is caused by either the bacteria Anaplasma platys or A. phagocytophila.
A dog with anaplasmosis will have a decrease in platelets and problems with blood clotting. It may happen cyclically every few weeks, often referred to as cyclic thrombocytopaenia.
Symptoms of anaplasmosis in dogs include lethargy, weakness, and anemia (you might notice pale gums). The dog's skin may also be bruised, and he may experience loss of appetite, weight loss, and fever.
Another tick-transmitted disease in dogs is babesiosis. If a dog is infected with a babesia organism, they may have several clinical signs, including severe anemia and sudden collapse with systemic shock.
An affected dog may also have dark urine, fever, weakness, pale mucous membranes, swollen lymph nodes, depression, and an enlarged spleen.
This disease is transmitted by an infected tick that bites a dog. Signs of ehrlichiosis can be divided into three stages: acute, sub-clinical, and clinical or chronic.
The acute phase consists of fever, respiratory distress, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, and bleeding disorders. Occasionally, there may be neurological disturbances.
Then, the sub-clinical phase represents a stage where the organism is present, but it is not causing symptoms. The only way to know that the dog is infected is by blood analysis.
Finally, chronic ehrlichiosis occurs when the dog's immune system is not able to eliminate the organism. They can develop, as a consequence, bleeding episodes, anemia, eye problems, lameness, and neurological problems.
Lyme disease is perhaps the most commonly known tick-transmitted disease. However, many dogs can have it and show no signs of it. Some common symptoms are fever, loss of appetite, painful and swollen joints, lameness, swollen lymph nodes, and lethargy.
If this disease is left untreated, it can affect the kidneys, the heart, and the nervous system. Other disorders can be facial paralysis and seizure disorders.
How to Prevent Your Dog From Getting Ticks
Preventing a dog from being exposed to ticks is very hard. They can attach to the dog when they are on a walk, hiking, or playing outdoors.
The best way to prevent problems with ticks is to examine your dog and use tick control products. Your vet will advise you about the best product for prevention and if there are any common diseases in your area to be aware of. Speak to your vet about tick control products that will rapidly kill or repel ticks. Tick products work, but not 100% of the time. Check your dog daily if you’ve been in a high-risk area. There is also a vaccine available for Lyme disease that your vet may recommend if you live in or frequently travel to areas where the disease is endemic, or where there are high numbers of ticks.
If you have a tick problem in your yard, consider treating the outdoor environment with safe products. Keep the lawn mowed. Mulch, wood chips, and gravel can also help decrease the migration of ticks into yards.
Check your dog for ticks after walks or after being outside. Make sure you check their ears, neck, skin folds, stomach, and other crevices. If you find a tick on your pet, remove it right away and dispose of it in a sealed bag or container so it can’t climb out of the trash and attach again. If you’re not comfortable removing a tick from your dog, make an appointment with your vet for removal as soon as possible.
Remember, if you have any questions about ticks, what products to use for prevention, or if you believe that your dog has been infected by ticks, call your vet for guidance.
How to Remove a Tick from Your Dog
Ticks can be difficult to remove. They have tiny spines that hold them tightly in place during feeding. Quickly pulling a tick away from the skin increases the chance of leaving the mouthparts in the skin. The safest way to remove a tick from your dog is to use a specially designed tick removal tool. If you don’t have access to a tick removal tool, a pair of tweezers is a good second option. Pull steady and firmly with a bit of pressure.
- Grasp the tick gently. Squeezing the body too hard will cause the tick to regurgitate the contents of their stomach and salivary glands, increasing the risk of disease transmission.
- Do not use Vaseline or alcohol to remove the tick.
- Never burn the tick.
- Never crush a tick with your fingers.
- Dispose of the tick by putting it in rubbing alcohol, sealing it in a bag, or wrapping it tightly in tape.
A red mark may be present after the tick has been removed. This should go away after 2-3 days and not exceed a few millimeters in size. If part of the tick is left in the skin, localized reactions may occur, including redness, swelling, rash, and/or infection.
After the tick has been removed, clean the area with antibacterial soap and wash your hands with soap and water. Do not crush the tick with your fingers; place it in a sealed plastic bag with alcohol or flush it down the toilet.
Using a Tick-Removal Tool
You can also use a tick-removal tool, such as the Tick Twister or the Tick Stick. All you need to do is put the prongs on either side of the tick and twist upward clockwise or counterclockwise to remove it. It is similar to using tweezers, but specifically for ticks.
What happens if the head of the tick gets stuck in the dog’s skin?
Even though you are as careful as possible, the tick’s mouthparts/head can get stuck in the dog’s skin after the body was removed. If this occurs, don’t panic! Don’t try to dig the
head out of the dog’s skin. This will cause irritation and inflammation and could open the skin to infection. The best thing you can do in this case is to take your dog to the vet so that they can remove any embedded pieces of the tick.
How to Kill a Tick Once It’s Been Removed
Once you’ve removed a tick safely and successfully, place it in a jar or small container filled with isopropyl alcohol and close the jar with the lid. The alcohol will kill the tick.
You can also keep the tick on the jar for a few days just in case your dog begins to show any signs of illness. Several types of ticks can carry different diseases; therefore, having a vet examining the tick may help with the diagnosis.
Tick Safety When Traveling with Your Dog
If your dog travels internationally, be aware that ticks in other countries can carry diseases that aren’t found in the US. These diseases can make your dog very ill and can even lead to death in severely affected or untreated cases. Therefore, preventative treatment for ticks is strongly recommended when traveling internationally. For more information on travel requirements for your pet, check out the USDA APHIS Pet Travel website.
When to See Your Veterinarian
- If the redness associated with a tick bite persists or increases
- If you notice any discharge from the area where the tick was removed
- If you notice any of the clinical signs of Lyme Disease (lethargy, painful/swollen joints, shifting-leg lameness, fever, enlarged lymph nodes)
Please note that any human health concerns regarding tick exposure or tick bites should be addressed by your physician.
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