Warm weather means tick season, when those tenacious little vampires get warm and hungry and start looking for a good meal. Huge numbers of tick eggs hatch every spring and the young ticks climb onto vegetation. They creep up tall grass, weeds, fences (or even walls of your house) and wait until a passing shadow, an odor, or a vibration tells them that a possible host might be passing by. Then they let go of their perch and fall, or reach out with their front legs to latch onto a furry coat (or your pants leg). Once on-board, they insert their mouths into their prey, and begin their meal…. Disgusting, but ticks are more than nuisances…they are dangerous. When ticks bite wild animals, they take in the bacteria these animals may harbor, and can transmit them along to their next host, meaning that any microorganisms that were hitching a ride inside the tick are passed on to your dog through the tick’s mouth. Some bacteria can cause diseases in dogs (and in people) –dangerous, debilitating, and sometimes even fatal diseases such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Obviously keeping kicks off your dog in the first place is better than having to pull them off, but despite your best efforts, dogs (especially the outdoorsy ones) are likely to occasionally get a tick. You can discourage tick attacks by keeping grass trimmed, and woodpiles and brush away from the area where your dog spends time. If ticks don’t have good, sheltered spots to hang out and wait for a warm host, they may move on to somewhere tick-friendlier.
Talk to your veterinarian about a preventative that is safe for your dog and most effective against the ticks common to your area. Do NOT buy over-the-counter products… many are ineffective, and some are downright toxic. Your vet will consider age, size, health, and other factors to determine the best medication.
After any outdoor activity, do a tick check as soon as you get indoors. Work through your dog’s coat with a flea comb and carefully rub your hands over his complete body to look and feel all over for suspicious bumps and creepy crawlies. When ticks are engorged with blood, they are visibly swollen and purplish, but unfed ticks will resemble tiny brown scabs and are easy to miss. Newly attached ticks are easy to overlook, so examine your dog closely, paying special attention to the paws, face, ears (both inside and out), mouth area, and genitals—although ticks can attach anywhere. If you see a tick, don’t panic or make any assumptions. Most ticks do not carry infection, and tests have verified that even if they are infected, they only begin transmitting disease if they are allowed to remain attached to feed for sustained periods of time, but it is important to remove them immediately. Do NOT try to burn, smother, or otherwise get a tick to “back out.” Also do not attempt to remove a tick with your fingers. These methods do not work, and can cause the tick to regurgitate more potential pathogens into the dog’s skin.
You can use tweezers to remove a tick, but an inexpensive, easy-to-use tick remover called “Ticked Off”, works much better. I suggest having a couple of these on hand “just in case.” You can find them in most pet stores and at Amazon on- line. For info on this ingenious device, go to www.tickedoff.com or call the company toll free at 800-642-2485.
If you do not have a commercial tick remover, using a sharp tweezers, grasp the tick as close to where it is embedded in the skin as possible. Do NOT grasp the tick by its body. Pull slowly and steadily, directly out. Do not jerk, twist or wiggle the tick. Use steady pressure to make the tick release its hold and allow you to remove it intact. Be patient if this takes a little time. Check to make sure all of the tick has been removed, and once you have removed it, don’t just toss it into the garbage or down the kitchen sink. Ticks are very tough little parasites…they have even been known to survive being flushed down the toilet. The best solution is drowning in alcohol.
If you use a vet-approved preventative product, do daily body checks, and remove any tick from your dog immediately, both you and your dog should cruise through the tick season without serious problems.