External parasites are the bane of every pet and pet owner. One of the worst external parasites is ticks. Besides being irritating, ticks can carry disease, some of which are transmittable to humans. For pets, these parasites can cause physical problems ranging from skin problems to arthritis to lethargy and depression, just to list a few. Keeping your pet tick-free is a tenet of good health for both pets and their human companions.
Ticks belong to the arachnid family, which also includes spiders. Ticks may not be as widespread as fleas in many areas, but they can bring serious problems in the form of many diseases. North America is home to several tick species including: the deer tick, the western black-legged tick, the Lone Star tick, the Rocky Mountain wood tick and the American dog tick.
The diseases that ticks cause and transmit are unpleasant for both humans and pets, and serious cases can even be fatal, so do not take these bloodsuckers lightly. Some of the more well-known diseases associated with ticks include Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Lesser-known diseases, but those that definitely must be considered, are Ehrlichia, Babesiosis and tick paralysis. In all cases, prompt medical treatment is important.
Ticks operate by attaching themselves to the skin and digging in with their sharp mouthpieces. They are most commonly found around your pet's head, neck, ears, feet and in the folds between the legs and the body. Ticks vary in size from about the size of a sesame seed to much larger, especially after they have had a full blood meal.
If you find a tick, use tweezers to remove it. Never touch or crush a tick with your bare hands. It is always best to spray the tick with a tick repellant spray prior to trying to remove it. It is always important to try and to remove the entire tick, especially its embedded head. Monitor the site of the tick removal for signs of inflammation or infection, just in case any part of the tick was left behind.
You may want to save the tick in alcohol, so that if problems occur your veterinarian or human physician can make an accurate diagnosis, if you or your pet later develops signs of illness.
Control and prevention
Be aware of your pet's outdoor environment and exposure. There are definitely areas of the country that have a higher incidence of ticks, but always use caution and check your pets' skin thoroughly, if they frequent wooded areas or areas of high grass. Hunting dogs and field trial dogs are two examples of those that should be checked on a regular basis.
There are several good products such as Frontline (for dogs and cats) and K9 Advantix (for dogs only) that are monthly topicals that aid in prevention. There are also some collars for dogs that provide other options to consider: the Preventic Collar, the Seresto Collar and the Scalibor Collar. As far as oral preventives for dogs, one may consider either Nexguard or Bravecto. It is critical to note that tick products designated only for dogs should NEVER be used on cats, because they are highly toxic to them. Be sure to check with your pet's veterinarian to assess risk and to find out what is recommended for your particular pet. In high-risk areas for Lyme disease, a vaccination also is available for dogs.
It also is important to note that veterinarians often routinely screen for Lyme disease and Ehrlichia at the time of your dog's annual physical exam with the aid of an in-house blood test that is primarily used to test dogs for heartworm disease.
Obviously, no one wants their pet or themselves to be in danger of having ticks around. Prevention is the bottom line for these nasty parasites. Do not hesitate to call in your veterinarian's and your professional exterminator's advice on preventing these pests from ruining your special bond.
Dr. Tracy Acosta, is a veterinarian at Acosta Veterinary Hospital in Biloxi. If you have questions for this column, write to South Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association, 20005 Pineville Road, Long Beach, MS 39560 and include a self-addressed stamped envelope.