Dogs are the most common domestic pet likely to be infected by ticks, although cats can also be affected.
Ticks are members of the spider family. Over 800 species have been found worldwide. They feed on the blood of a host, which is when the organisms that cause disease are injected into the host. Hard ticks, characterized by a hard body shell, are the main transmitters of disease.
Dogs are the most common domestic pet likely to be infected by ticks, although cats can also be affected. Ticks are present on vegetation nearly everywhere and any dog in contact with shrubbery, grass or other bushes can be infested.
The deer tick, the cause of Lyme disease, is found mostly in the Northeast but has been also found in the Midwest and southeastern portions of the states. The American dog tick is found throughout the U.S. but mostly along the Atlantic Coast. The brown dog tick is also widely distributed throughout the states.
There are four stages of development that occur over a year’s time. Eggs are deposited in the fall, larvae emerge in late winter and early spring, mature into nymphs in late spring and summer, and finally mature into adults in the fall, when the cycle begins again. All tick stages require a host to feed on during their part of the life cycle. Usually there are small mammals, like mice or birds. Deer are often heavily infested in the fall.
Of all the stages, the most easily identified is the adult. Although the adult can transmit disease, it is the smaller nymph that is of bigger concern. Because of its smaller size and ability to concentrate the organisms that cause disease in its gut, this stage is the most dangerous.
The adult tick is found most often on the head and between the toes of an infested pet. If a tick is found, it is best to grab it as close to the skin as possible with a pair of fine tweezers and then to pull straight away. Twisting the tick’s body, burning the tick, applying alcohol or Vaseline is not recommended as these may cause the tick to regurgitate its gut contents, which contains the highest number of disease carrying bacteria, into the host.
Ticks are responsible for a number of diseases that can be very serious and in some cases life threatening including anemia, tick paralysis, Rocky Mountain Fever, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and Lyme disease.
Treatment depends on the disease suspected. Confirmation of the type of disease requires blood work. Early treatment with appropriate drugs like antibioticas can cure most pets. However if the disease has progressed, the prognosis is poorer. The dogs that survive become life-long carriers of the disease organism and will occasionally have flare-ups.
There are only two approved controversial vaccines for Lyme disease. However, there are a number of very effective anti-tick products available to prevent tick diseases.
Page 2 of 2 - The dog’s bedding and sleep area should be cleaned and disinfected. Grass should be mowed, brush removed, and shrubs clipped. Use of an appropriate insecticide is also recommended and check your dog daily.
Although DEET is very effective in keeping ticks off people, it is not recommended for use on pets because of its potential for poisoning. As always, your veterinarian is your best source of information regarding the health of your pet.
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