Tick season is either already here or is headed your way if you live where these little bloodsuckers thrive during the warmer months.
Tick-borne diseases are reaching epidemic proportions and these parasites are constantly expanding their territory. According to the University of the Free State, they are becoming increasingly resistant to many pesticides.
One tick bite can transmit multiple tick-borne diseases. Ticks pick up pathogens from infected wildlife and pests such as mice. Ticks that attach to these animals are much more likely to be co-infected.
Commonly Diagnosed Tick-Borne Infections in Dogs
This tick-borne infection is caused by the bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum or Anaplasma platys. The infection is transmitted by the brown dog tick.
Infected dogs can run a high fever, lose their appetite, have vomiting and diarrhea, neck pain, neurologic signs, anemia and even seizures. Antibiotics are used to treat serious, confirmed infections.
Babesiosis is caused by the intracellular parasite Babesia, and the incubation period between exposure and symptoms is about two weeks.
Symptoms can range from mild to very severe. These may include lack of energy, lack of appetite, weakness, fever, pale gums and tongue, orange or red-colored urine, discolored stool, weight loss, enlarged lymph nodes, enlarged spleen and jaundice. A severe infection can affect multiple organ systems including the lungs, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, kidneys and nervous system.
Canine ehrlichiosis is caused by two bacteria: Ehrlichia canis is transmitted by the brown dog tick; Ehrlichia ewingii is transmitted by the lone star tick.
Like other tick-borne diseases, ehrlichia can wreak havoc on your dog’s body if it’s not identified and treated. Symptoms include loss of appetite, low-grade fever, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes and occasionally, unexplained bruising, lameness and nosebleeds.
If your pet tests positive, ask your vet to do additional testing to find out whether she has just been exposed or is actually dealing with an infection.
4. Lyme disease
Lyme disease, also known as borreliosis, is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Although mostly found in America and Europe there are increasing incidents of Lyme disease is South Africa. The presence of the bacteria is only detected through routine tests at a veterinary clinic.
If your dog develops symptoms, they will usually appear from two to five months after the tick bite and can include fever, swollen lymph nodes, joint swelling, lameness, lethargy and loss of appetite. This is why I recommend screening for this disease twice a year in endemic areas before dogs become symptomatic.
5. African Tick Bite Fever
This tick-borne infection caused by the Rickettsia africae. An infected tick must be attached to your dog for at least five hours for transmission to occur.
Symptoms can include Flu-like symptoms in humans and fever, reduced appetite, depression, joint pain, lameness, vomiting, and diarrhea.
6. Bites from the Paralysis Tick
These may be spread by possums, birds and other native fauna. Paralysis Ticks can be found in backyards, parks and bushland. It only takes one Paralysis Tick to kill a dog. The symptoms of Paralysis Tick Toxicity include:
- Hindlimb weakness,
- Difficulty breathing,
- Inability to stand,
The affected dog may show one or a combination of these symptoms. Paralysis Tick toxicity can also be localized with only one leg being affected or, quite commonly, one eye (if it attaches on the eyelid). The symptoms can take up to 4 days to be seen from the time the tick is removed.
If you see any symptoms take your dog to the vet immediately as they will usually need to be treated with a tick-antiserum.
5 Tips to Help Your Dog Avoid a Tick-Borne Infection
1. Check for ticks daily
Don’t to look in areas of your pet’s body where ticks can hide, such as between the toes, the underside of the toes, in the earflaps and around the tail base.
Daily tick checks, or checks each time your dog has been outside and potentially exposed and then safely removing ticks immediately are crucial steps in reducing your dog’s risk of acquiring tick borne infections.
2. Use natural tick deterrents
There are dozens on the market, and although none of them can prevent 100 percent of tick bites, 100 percent of the time, they may make your dog a less appealing host.
3. Focus on making your dog exceptionally healthy
Ticks and other parasites prefer weaker hosts. Creating a strong and resilient immune system in your dog through a exceptional nutrition, fresh food diet, titering and minimizing chemical exposure will make you dog less attractive to ticks.
4. Remove ticks the RIGHT way
If you find a tick on your dog, be sure to remove it immediately, but carefully and safely. Don’t use your bare hands because you risk becoming infected by handling or crushing an infected tick. Always wear gloves and use a tick-removing tool. The best there is is called O’Tom tick Twister.
Slide the Tick Twister very close to your pet’s skin and under the tick. Never Pull! Rather TWIST and “unskrew” the tick from your dog’s body. Whole whole tick, inlcuding the mouth bits gets removed with the Tick Twister without placing any pressure on the tick’s abdomen or stressing the tick in the process.
Once it’s off, flush it down the toilet or take it to your vet for diagnosis. Then disinfect your dog’s skin with soapy water or diluted disinfectant. You are also most welcome to apply a drop of lavender oil to the bite. Monitor the attachment site for the next few days. If you notice any irritation or inflammation of the skin, contact your veterinarian.
5. Have your dog tested for tick-borne diseases
Do this three to four weeks after removing a tick. If you don’t have this done, you’ll need to watch your dog closely for several months for any signs of loss of appetite, lethargy, change in gait, fever, intermittent limping — all the symptoms of potential tick-borne disease.
Waiting until your dog exhibits symptoms isn’t the most proactive approach. Tick-borne diseases are harder to treat once a dog is clearly ill.
Checking your dog externally for ticks plus having his blood checked regularly (especially during tick season or the warmer months) for silent infections is the very best approach to keeping him safe from potentially devastating tick-borne diseases.
Tick prevention should be multi-modal. No preventative is 100% effective but by using a couple of different preventatives at the same time your chances of preventing tick bites and tick paralysis are increased.