Ticks and Your Pet’s Safety: what you need to know

Tick identificationWhat is a tick?

The tick is part of the arachnid family and therefore more closely related to spiders and scorpions than to fleas. Ticks survive and thrive at extreme temperatures (meaning your dog can get ticks all year round). They live up to a year without feeding, are unaffected by the application of even the toughest household repellents, and transfer nasty infections such as Lyme disease to your beloved pets. Ticks have a life span of up to three years, dependent on finding a suitable host to complete their life cycle.

Ticks are found in tall grasses, bushes, trees, wooded areas, and even crevices of homes. They cannot fly or jump, rather they patiently await on grasses and bushes for a mammal to pass by and then let go and crawl on the mammal as its body brushes against the vegetation.

What are the most common tick-borne diseases in the Northeast?

According to the AKC Canine Health Foundation, the most common tick-borne diseases are Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Hepatozoonosis, Babesiosis, and Lyme disease. A common indication of ticks is skin irritation. If your dog is shaking its head or legs in an agitated way, this could signal discomfort due to the presence of a tick. Similarly, signs of abnormal weakness and fatigue, loss of appetite, or shivering could indicate a fever caused by an unwelcome guest. Check your dog regularly and thoroughly for any signs of bites or scabs.

Lyme disease is one of the most common diseases spread by ticks in the Northern Hemisphere for both humans and pets. Antibiotics cure Lyme disease when it is caught early, but it often becomes chronic and debilitating if it is diagnosed too late. If a tick is found within 24 hours of biting, there’s a good chance your dog has not been infected with Lyme disease, which takes time to transmit. The only way to know with certainty that you or your dog has been infected is to check diligently for bites and to be tested regularly. Consider having your pet vaccinated for Lyme disease. The vaccine won’t protect your dog from other vector-borne diseases – or protect you and your family, for that matter, but it is a powerful line of defense.

What you need to know about tick bite prevention

  • Use a tick repellent – chemical and/or natural (Essential Oils such as rose geranium, pennyroyal and oregano), Spot-On treatments, Check your pet for ticksoral medications, shampoos, tick collars, powders and sprays are available. Ask your Veterinarian for recommendations.
  • Conduct a tick check – exam your dog and yourself daily, especially the vulnerable areas of your dog’s leg joints, ears, between toes/paw pads, base of the tail, and lips. Run your hands or a fine-toothed comb over your dog’s back and stomach at least once or twice a day to dislodge ticks before they find their preferred spot to bite.
  • Avoid tick-infested areas – as much as possible, avoid potential tick-infested areas such as those with long grass, bushes, and undergrowth.
  • Create a barrier to help deter ticks – make a barrier around your yard with wood chips, gravel or paving. These non-vegetative materials help to deter ticks from getting into your dog’s play area.
  • Maintain your yard – mow and rake the yard frequently to keep the tick population down.
  • Adopt a Guinea Fowl hen or two – these birds are effective tick eaters and consider ticks a delicacy.
  • Dress appropriately – as for human members of the family, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when walking your dog through potential high tick areas. Tuck your shirt into your pants and wear socks over the hems of your pant legs to decrease access to your skin. Wearing light-colored clothing will make ticks much more visible before they can get underneath to skin.
  • Treat clothing – put clothing that may have ticks on it in the dryer for approximately 1 hour at high heat, even before washing, as ticks have been known to survive the washing process.
  • Vacuum your house frequently – it is recommended that you replace your vacuum bag at least once a week or empty canister after every use.
  • Wash dog bedding – at least once a week, wash dog bedding in hot, soapy water.

What is the best way to remove a tick?

Don’t panic, removing a tick is straightforward and painless for both you and your dog with the proper supplies and procedure.

Supplies you will need:

  • Clean, ideally sterilized tweezers (submerge the tweezers in boiling water for a few minutes and then allow to cool before using)
  • Rubber gloves to avoid infection
  • Veterinary disinfectant (you can get this online at a variety of sites including Amazon)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Sealable sandwich bag

To remove the tick:

  1. Put the rubber gloves on to protect your hands
  2. Take the clean tweezers and gently grasp the tick, pressing down slightly to grip it as close as possible to your dog’s skin
  3. Important: pull slowly and steadily on the tick until it slides out of the dog’s skin. If you yank or tug it suddenly, you could break off the head of the tick which could remain embedded and increases the risk of infection. You want to keep the tick alive and intact until it is completely removed from the skin.
  4. Place the tick in the alcohol to kill it. Don’t go for the shortcut of dousing the tick with the alcohol while it is still attached to your dog as this could cause it to release or vomit its toxins into your pet.
  5. Immediately dab the Veterinary disinfectant on the affected area to prevent infection, being very careful if around your dog’s eyes.
  6. Save the tick in the plastic baggie, wrapped in a damp but not wet paper towel to keep its body hydrated, write the date on the baggie and put it in the fridge. If you or your dog does later contract symptoms of disease or infection, it could be important to identify the breed of tick that was found and the specimen may still be viable for testing to determine if it was carrying any diseases.

Unfortunately, ticks are a part of our everyday environment but staying diligent and incorporating preventative measures into your daily and weekly routine will go a long way toward keeping your human and furry family members safe and healthy.

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