Preventing Tick-Borne Disease

CH_CAT_FleaTickTicks are a world-wide problem.  They carry several diseases that can threaten the health of your dog.  Such diseases include Ehrlichia, Anaplasma, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Lyme Disease. These diseases present us with different symptoms and most are difficult to diagnose in the early stages without aggressive diagnostic testing and prompt treatment.  Depending on the disease, we can be presented with clinical signs that include lethargy, neurological deficits, deficiencies of all blood elements, high fever, arthritic pain, kidney failure, paralysis, and ultimately death.  Early diagnosis and proper treatment is essential for positive outcomes.

In order to prevent tick infestations, we must first understand the ticks environment and life cycle.  Environmental prevention is based on what we know about the tick, which seems to be geared toward only two things, reproduction and survival, both of which depend on blood.

An adult female tick gets impregnated by a much smaller male and then engorges itself on the blood of an animal, it falls off and dies after laying a batch of eggs that may number in the thousands.  The tiny, six-legged larvae that emerge from the eggs do not all survive, but the ones that do attach themselves for their first blood meal on small mammals like field mice.  This is where the trouble can start for dogs if that mouse is a carrier-host for tick-borne disease since ticks are usually not born infected.

After feeding, the larvae molt, become nymphs and gain another pair of legs and the chance to become a carrier if the larger animal they feed on has a tick borne disease or pass infection on if they are already a vector from feeding on the small mammal.

Most ticks will climb on a grass blade or low-hanging tree branch and wait for your pet to come along, holding up their front legs in anticipation of grabbing hold.  The ticks have chemoreceptors in sensory organs that act as taste buds on their front legs that they use to find their next meal.  They know us by the carbon dioxide that the dogs and we breathe out, moisture, body heat and butyric acid which is a chemical that all mammals give off.  So when a dog brushes by a tick, it will latch onto its fur and start looking for a place to attach and feed.

Not all ticks carry disease, but because of the numbers that exist makes sense to do everything possible to protect our dogs from being bitten.  The way the tick behaves gives us clues how to keep the ticks away.

Obviously, since ticks like tall grasses and low-hanging tree limbs, it is best to cut the grass and remove the branches.  It is also good to keep dogs away from areas where there could be small rodents such as stone walls and wood piles.

You can also spray the surroundings with a mild dish soap like Ivory with a garden sprayer.  This detergent will also kill the honey bees, so do this in the evening when they are not around.  Ticks do not like sulfur because of the pungent odor to their sensory organs.

There are several preventatives that are on the market that prevent ticks.  Most of the good ones contain Amitraz.  But do not use the products that contain Amitraz and permethrin on cats because they are toxic to them.  Frontline Plus which is made by Merial contains Fipronil which is safe for cats.

The only tick-borne disease that has a vaccine available for prevention is Lyme disease.  It works best in young dogs that have never been exposed before and must be given every year.  Dogs have been known to get Lyme even though they have been vaccinated.  Most veterinary teaching hospitals do not recommend it unless you live in an area where there is a strong likelihood of infection.  The ease with which Lyme can be detected and treated may weigh against using the vaccine.  Very rarely, dogs can have a reaction to the vaccine which leaves them with all the painful symptoms of Lyme disease but no hope of being cured as there is no disease to fight.  Unfortunately, you cannot know if yours will be one of them before you vaccinate.  However, many have been vaccinated and suffered no serious reaction and appear to be protected by the vaccine.

The best and safest way to remove a tick is to use a small curved Kelly forceps or a pair of tweezers or one of the tools especially made for the purpose, catch the tick right behind the flattened head as close as possible to the dog’s skin, and pull gently and straight out.  Do not ever try to remove a tick with your fingers, burn it, put petrolatum jelly on it, twist it or jerk it.  By grasping the tick with your fingers, you risk propelling the infectious saliva from the tick into your dog.  After removing the tick drop it in a solution of water and dish soap to kill it.