Do you know if where you live has ticks, and if so which ticks and which diseases those ticks carry? Find out about ticks, dogs, and four common tick-borne diseases.
Where Are Ticks Found
Ticks are found in high dry grass, along trails, in leaf litter, and in wooded areas. They move around mostly by deer and rodents where they fall off to find a new host (a new place to live – you or your dog and sometimes cats). Ticks are found mostly in the spring and when it cools off in the fall.
How Tick-Borne Diseases Are Transmitted
The number of cases being reported of tick-borne diseases keeps increasing. This is why it is so important to keep ticks from getting on your dog(s). If you go on a hike, go through brushes of tall grass, or go somewhere you know has ticks it is important to check your dog before you bring them inside your car or house. It is best to check right after the outdoor activity, but you will not always find all of them since they can be really small. It only takes about 6 hours of the tick biting your dog to transmit the bacteria or virus that causes tick-borne diseases. This means checking your dog often if you were in a place known to have ticks. It is much easier to see ticks that have eaten a little than when they are just crawling around on your dog but the less amount of time, they have eaten the better.
4 Tick-Borne Diseases
- Lyme Disease: The most common tick-borne disease in dogs and humans is Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi which is transmitted from deer ticks and black-legged ticks. Symptoms that your dog may have that could mean they have Lyme disease include lameness, fever, swollen joints, kidney failure (see my article for signs of kidney failure), and/or not eating.
- Anaplasmosis: Transmitted from the deer tick and black-legged tick which is caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum. Symptoms of anaplasmosis include lack of energy, high fever, swollen, very painful joints, and/or not eating.
- Ehrlichiosis: Comes from the lone star tick or brown dog tick. Ehrlichia canis is a Rickettsiae group of bacteria. Symptoms of ehrlichiosis include not eating, depression, fever, painful joints, bloody noses, and/or pale gums.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: Transmitted from the bacteria Rickettsia rickettsia. Symptoms to look for include poor appetite, muscle or joint pain, fever, coughing, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, swelling of the face or legs, and/or depression.
There are a lot of other tick-borne diseases, but these are the ones most seen in the United States. All the above except for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be easily tested for at your veterinary clinic with a simple blood test normally performed in-house. Watch for the symptoms above and know what ticks are in your area to help you know which signs you need to look for. If you do pull a tick off your dog, it is a good idea to get a picture of it and find out what type of tick it is, so you know which symptoms to look for. Talk to your veterinary team to know which tick-borne diseases are seen at your clinic and know the best thing to do for your dog where you live.
What to Do if My Dog Got a Tick Bite
If your dog was exposed to ticks it should be tested for tick-borne diseases about four weeks after being bitten. If your dog gets heartworm tested every year or so they might be getting tick-borne disease tested too. Some of the heartworm tests also have three tick-borne diseases in one test. It will depend on the area you live in or how often the tests are done. If you live in an area that has a high chance of your dog getting heartworm disease, they normally perform a heartworm test once a year whereas if there is not a lot of heartworm, they might only do a heartworm test every 3 years. If your dog does get ticks and you live in an area that doesn’t have a lot of heartworm you should still get the heartworm tick-borne disease tests once a year to check for tick-borne diseases.
Treatment for Tick-Borne Diseases
Most of the tick-borne diseases are bacterial infections and antibiotics are given to help get rid of it or help with the symptoms of the disease. Most of the time if your dog was exposed to one of the tick-borne diseases and they do not show any symptoms, but the test shows up positive there is no treatment prescribed. If there are symptoms, you do want to treat the dog to help it feel better and help get rid of the disease. Lyme disease can still come up positive after being treated or if the dog was vaccinated for Lyme disease – which is why treating is not always the best thing to do if there are no symptoms. Talk to your veterinary team about what is best for your dog.
If You See a Tick on Your Dog
If you do see an engorged tick on your dog the best thing to do is use a tick remover. This one has three different size tick removers and a tick identification card. With these you place the slot on the device between the body and the “head” of the tick, push down until you hear and feel the “head” pop out, and put the tick in some rubbing alcohol until it is dead. This ensures that you got all the mouthpieces of the tick out of your dog, the tick cannot drop eggs, the tick cannot infect anyone else, and you got rid of the tick. You can get tick removers here or your veterinary office might have some. If you do not have a tick remover the next best way to remove a tick is to use tweezers, using the thinnest-mouthed tweezers is best to make sure you get the “head” of the tick out of your dog.
What if You Do Not Get the Mouth Pieces of the Tick Out of Your Dog?
It is not always possible to get all the ticks out of the dog, but it is best to try to get all of it out each time you pull one off your dog. If the mouthpieces are left in your dog, it can irritate the skin. Some dogs get allergic reactions to the pieces that were left behind and get welts, red irritated patches on their skin, some itch a lot which can lead to hot spots (irritated, oozing, skin), and can increase the amount of the infectious agents transmitted to the dog.
How to Prevent Ticks From Getting on Your Dog
Multiple tick preventatives can be used to help kill the tick by affecting its nervous system. There are topical tick preventatives, collars, and even sprays. Do not use dog tick preventatives on cats. Cats are very sensitive to the chemicals in dog tick preventatives, and they can make the cat very sick and even die from applying dog tick preventatives on a cat. Talking to your veterinary staff about what they recommend for your dog in your area is best. They know what is working best for the ticks in your area and to prevent the tick-borne diseases that are seen in your area.
Over-the-Counter Tick Products
Here are a few over-the-counter products that can be used when you know you are going somewhere there are ticks, or you found fleas or ticks on your dog, and you just applied other flea and tick products. Wonerside Flea, Tick, Mosquito Spray. Wonderside Flea and Tick Shampoo.