Ticked Off? What you need to know about Ticks!!!

A tick is an ectoparasite (living externally) that feeds on the blood of mammals, birds and occasionally reptiles and amphibians. Ticks are often found in tall grass or wooded/forested regions throughout the world but they are especially common where there are deer. They are more active in warmer weather (April to November) but can attack a host at any time. A tick feeds on your dog, drops off when full and lays eggs in the environment and yes, they can make your house their home, usually preferring cracks and crevices.

Ticks are a vector for a number of diseases including:

Lyme disease; Signs in dogs are difficult to detect and may not appear until several months after infection. Symptoms may come and go and can mimic other conditions. Cases vary from mild to severe. In severe cases, kidney failure can occur. Most common symptoms are: recurrent arthritis/lameness that lasts 3–4 days, sometimes accompanied by loss of appetite and depression, reluctance to move or a stiff, painful gait, swollen joints that are warm to the touch, pain in the legs or throughout the body, fever, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes. 

Rocky Mountain spotted fever; In most dogs it lasts about two weeks, but in severe cases can result in death. Most common signs are fever, skin lesions, stiffness when walking and neurological abnormalities.

Canine Ehrlichiosis; Like Lyme disease, warning signs may not be readily apparent. Mild signs can mimic a vague illness in which the animal is losing weight. If left untreated, this disease could progress to a chronic infection without clinical signs, which can last days, months or years. Severe cases of canine ehrlichiosis that go undiagnosed and untreated can end in death. Most common symptoms are depression, loss of appetite, lethargy, fever, runny eyes and nose/discharge, swollen lymph glands, spontaneous nose bleed, bruising on gums and belly, lameness/stiffness/painful joints.

Canine Anaplamosis; Sometimes referred to as dog fever, or dog tick fever. Most commons signs are arthritis like stiffness with painful joints, high fever accompanied by lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea, neurological signs resulting in seizures and neck pain.

Tick paralysis; Caused by a toxin in the saliva of the tick that enters the bloodstream. Tick paralysis is an acute, progressive, ascending motor paralysis that begins with a staggered gait. This can be very dangerous if left untreated but usually resolves within 24 hours once the tick is removed. Important that ALL ticks are removed by thoroughly checking the body.

While it is common to find ticks on dogs, most animals will not develop the above diseases or symptoms from tick bites. It is important that if you are in a tick endemic area, that your pet be inspected regularly for ticks. The risk of disease arises once the tick has been feeding more than 24 hours. If you notice ANY of the above symptoms, seek veterinary care and inform your vet if you found a tick on your dog. Early detection will usually mean effective treatment.

Removing ticks can be fairly simple. Two of the most common recommendations are to gently grab the tick with your fingers (use latex gloves) and twist slowly in a counter clockwise direction. Patience is the key so the head of the tick is not left behind. The other suggestion is to use pointed edge tweezers (so you don’t squeeze the tick) and slowly pull it straight out…the key again is to go slowly and pull straight upwards. We find twisting works best. If you are concerned you have left the head in, visit the vet who can remove it properly. Live ticks can also be brought to the Centers for Disease Control to test for disease. Otherwise, you need to kill it :(

We prefer frequent grooming to the toxic chemical applications. As a tick repellent, you can use this home-made recipe. 750 ml (24 oz) of water, 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon sweet almond oil and 20 drops of essential oil of lavender. Shake well and spray on your dog before leaving the house, brush and inspect the animal well on returning. You can refrigerate this mixture for use over several days.

Interesting side note: The parasitic Ichneumon Wasp has long been investigated for its potential to control tick populations. It lays its eggs into ticks; the hatching wasps kill their host. Another natural form of control for ticks is the Guineafowl, a bird species which consumes mass quantities of ticks. Just 2 birds can clear 2 acres in a single year. We still like our above natural repellent…the ingredients are a lot easier to find ;)

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