Warm weather heralds all the wonderful signs of spring – sunny skies, daffodils, tulips, flowering trees, newborn baby animals….and the return of the dreaded tick.
Just the mere mention of the word incites imaginary feelings of “creeping, crawling “parasites” inching their way across our skin. The threat becomes all too real as you and your pet(s) spend more and more time outdoors, enjoying strolls in the park, romps through the woods or even playing in your own yard.
Ticks are blood-feeding parasites that belong to the Arachnid family along with scorpions, spiders and mites. They are often found in tall grass, brush and shrubs. Physical contact is the only way a tick can be transported – they don’t jump like fleas nor do they fly.
While most tick bites are harmless, there are some that can cause serious illness:
· The deer tick, or black legged tick, transmits Lyme disease
· The common brown dog tick transmits Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Haemobartonellosis and Hepatozoonosis. It does not transmit Lyme disease
· The Lone Star tick transmits Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness. It is easily recognizable by the white “star” in the middle of the back
· The American dog tick, or wood tick, transmits Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
· The Rocky Mountain wood tick transmits Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado Tick Fever and Rabbit Fever (Tularemia)
This article will focus on the most
common tick-borne diseases:
Ticks can remain attached to their host for several days. It usually takes 24-48 hours for a tick to transmit the bacteria, so it’s important to remove it as soon as you find it.
To remove a tick use a small pair of pointed, fine-tipped tweezers: grab the head as close to the skin as possible and pull the tick straight out using a slow, steady pressure. Tiny larval ticks can usually be removed using a special tick remover like this one manufactured by www.tickedoff.com. Thoroughly wash the bite area with soap and water and watch the area for signs of infection. Note the date and location of the tick bite and watch for possible symptoms over the next couple of weeks.
A recent study conducted by IDEXX Laboratories has revealed that there are now three tick-borne diseases found in all 50 states. They are Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis (E. Canis) and Anaplasmosis, formerly known as Ehrlichia Equi.
Lyme disease was first discovered in the late 1980’s in the town of Lyme, Connecticut. Lyme is transmitted by the bite of the deer tick.
Symptoms of Lyme disease infection in dogs can takes weeks or months to become obvious. Symptoms include lethargy, lameness, joint pain, fever and loss of appetite. In some instances kidney damage, heart disorders and neurological issues like confusion or aggression can occur. Some infected dogs will not show any symptoms at all.
Treatment is traditionally a course of antibiotics like Amoxicillin or Doxycycline.
Anaplasmosis, formerly known as Ehrlichia Equi, is a bacteria that lives inside of the white blood cells and can cause a variety of problems.
Symptoms of Anaplasmosis will normally occur within 10-14 days after infection. However, like Lyme, some dogs may be infected and be asymptomatic, then suddenly become sick months later. Others may carry it but show no signs at all; their immune system may be strong enough to clear the infection by itself.
The most common signs of infection are high fever, lethargy and swollen painful joints. The dog will not eat well and will be hesitant to move around. Pain in their joints can switch from leg to leg and they may flinch when you touch them or they may cry when they try to move. Additional signs are vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and brain disorders. Some may develop liver or kidney damage, and some may develop nosebleeds, bloody urine or severe bruising on their skin. Again, this usually goes away with antibiotics.
Ehrlichiosis is named after Dr. Ehrlich who first discovered the various types of bacteria. They are transmitted by brown dog ticks. The Ehrlichia bacteria live in the white blood cells of their host. This bacteria is difficult to treat since most antibiotics do not penetrate to the inside of cells. Doxycycline is the primary drug of choice used to treat Ehrlichiosis because of its excellent intracellular penetration capability. Tetracycline can also be used in chronic cases or for short term acute cases. Severely anemic dogs may require a blood transfusion.
Dogs infected with Ehrlichiosis may not show any symptoms for years. Or they may have long periods of time where they only experience occasional and mild anemia and loss of appetite. When the disease progresses, however, symptoms include fever, discharge from the eyes and nose, loss of appetite, depression, weight loss, anemia, loss of platelets (making blood less able to clot), respiratory problems, lameness, and neurological disorders. These symptoms may become chronic in later stages of the disease.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) was named during the 1800s by the early settlers of the Northwestern United States. It’s transmitted by the American dog tick. An infected tick must be attached to its host from 5 to 20 hours for the transmission of the infection to occur. Symptoms are fever, chills, headache, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, hemorrhaging of the nose and throat and neurological symptoms like abnormal mental state, circling, head tilt and lack of coordination. Vascular damage may also occur. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, RMSF has been reported in all states except Hawaii, Alaska, Maine and Vermont.
Treatment is with Tetracycline or Doxycycline.
Keeping pets from coming in contact with ticks is extremely difficult. There are several things that you can do to prevent your dog from being bitten by a tick:
Tick problems can vary depending on the time of year, your geographic location, your lifestyle and your dog. It’s important for you to review all the options available and choose those products that are best suited for your particular circumstances.
Editor’s Note: GRRI does not endorse any of the products mentioned in this article nor is any of this information to be used in lieu of a veterinarian’s advice.