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Ticks: Why they are a problem and how to prevent and remove them

Updated: Mar 28

Ticks are a year-long issue, and our pets are very susceptible to the diseases that they carry with them. If you have pets that spend a lot of time outside, then regular tick checks should be part of your daily routine. Ticks can range in size and live in 4 different life stages: egg stage, larval stage, nymph stage, and adult stage. They have 8 legs in their adult stage, and their color ranges from tan, to black, or brown. Even though they are more of an issue during warmer months, ticks can also survive in the freezing temperatures of winter and can be very damaging to your pet's health, similar to fleas.


Common diseases that are spread by ticks.

  1. Lyme Disease: An infectious disease caused by a spirochete bacteria (Borrelia) carried by the Black-Legged Tick (more commonly known as the Deer Tick). Signs of Lyme Disease may include fever, lameness, limping, joint pain/swelling, enlargement of lymph nodes, and lethargy. Lyme disease can progress to kidney disease, which can become fatal.

  2. Canine Ehrlichiosis: Found worldwide, it is caused by several types of ticks: The Brown Dog Tick, Lone Star Tick, and American Dog Tick. Signs include fever, poor appetite, and low blood platelets (cells that help the clotting of blood), often noted by nose bleeding or other signs of bruising or anemia.

  3. Anaplasmosis is a disease caused by a bacterium carried by the Black-Legged Tick (Ixodes). The signs are similar to Lyme disease, though dogs with Anaplasma often have low blood platelets causing bleeding disorders.

  4. Rocky Mountain spotted fever: One of the more commonly known tick-borne diseases to affect dogs and humans. It is carried by the American Dog Tick, the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick, and the Brown Deer Tick. Signs include fever, poor appetite, swollen lymph nodes, and joint pain. Low platelets (which help in blood clotting) are often found, and on occasion, neurological signs such as wobbliness can also occur.

  5. Babesiosis: Another disease caused primarily by the bite of a tick, but can also transfer from dog bites, transplacental transmission, and possibly through contaminated IV blood. The main issue associated with Babesiosis is “hemolysis,“ or the breaking down of red blood cells. Symptoms include lethargy, pale gums, dark-colored urine, and jaundice (yellow/orange colored skin or sclera — the “whites” of the eyes)

  6. Tick paralysis: This is a rapidly progressive motor paralysis caused by a toxin in the tick's saliva that attacks the nervous system, and it is most commonly spread through the American Dog Tick, and the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick. People (especially children) and other animals may be affected.


How to spot ticks on your pet

As stated above, if your pet spends a lot of time outdoors, then checking them for ticks should be a part of your daily routine. Since they can be hard to spot in fur when they are small, a short, thorough inspection of the body should be done before your pet comes inside to prevent any ticks from entering your home. When looking for ticks, you should check:

  • In and around the ears

  • Around the tail

  • Under the front legs

  • Between the toes

  • Under the collar and near the neck

  • Around the eyelids


How to safely remove ticks from your pet

To safely remove a tick from your pet's fur, you will need the following:

  • Gloves

  • Disinfectant (antiseptic cream or soapy water work the same)

  • Clean tweezers or tick removers

  • Isopropyl Alcohol

If you are using tweezers: Grab the tick as close to your pet's skin as possible (without pinching them) and pull the tick out of its skin slowly in a steady motion upwards. Do not shake it around, as any remnants left behind could lead to infection.

If you are using a tick remover tool: Gently press the remover against your pet's skin near the tick, slide the notch of the remover under the tick, and pull away from the skin.


Once you have pulled the tick (s) off of your pet's skin, apply the isopropyl alcohol to clean the area. Note the date that you removed tick (s) from your pet to keep track of any symptoms that they may develop in the following days after they were bitten. Dispose of the tick properly, wash your hands, and apply disinfectant to your pet's affected areas.


Keep an eye on the area (s) where your pet was bitten to see if the skin continues to be irritated or becomes infected. If the skin remains irritated, call or make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss treatment options.


How to prevent ticks from biting your pets

Ticks are a year-round issue that requires immediate attention once detected. While it can be hard to remove ticks and deal with any diseases or symptoms that your pet may get from being bitten by one, there are several methods that you can exercise to prevent or catch them before or immediately after your pet has been bitten. Those methods include:

  • Check your pet's fur daily, especially if they go outside often

  • Immediate removal of any ticks that have bitten your pet

  • Talk to your veterinarian about the best tick-prevention products for your pet. These include Nexgard, Simparica, and Revolution plus


Conclusion

If you, your family, or your pets spend a lot of time outdoors in leafy, grassy, or wooded areas, then you should routinely check for ticks every time you return home. Vacuum frequently, wash your bedding weekly with hot water and a pet-friendly washing solution, and bathe your dogs with tick and flea shampoo. It is advised to keep cats indoors as much as possible to mitigate infection from ticks, as well as fleas and other outdoor hazards. If you have more questions, contact your veterinarian for further advice.

* (Tick Diagram created by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

 

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. preventing Ticks on your pets

  2. The Humane Society of the United States. How to remove tick on dog

  3. Nexgard. Ticks on Dogs: Essential Facts to keep your pets

  4. American Kennel Club. Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs: Symptoms & How to Prevent

  5. California Department of Public Health. Common Ticks in California

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ticks Image gallery


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