Ticks are an indisputably dreaded enemy. None of us wants to find a tick on our dogs, other pets or ourselves. Besides the obvious “ick” factor, ticks are bad news because they may transmit diseases and even cause anemia or paralysis. As a dog owner, there are some basics you should know about the risks of ticks, as well as their removal and prevention. With proper knowledge, you can help protect your dog from the threat of ticks.
Ticks are parasitic arthropods that feed on the blood of their hosts. They are attracted to warmth and motion, often seeking out mammals, including dogs. Ticks tend to hide out in tall grass or plants in wooded areas waiting for prospective hosts. Once a host is found, the tick climbs on and attaches its mouthparts into the skin, beginning the blood meal. Once locked in place, the tick will not detach until its meal is complete. It may continue to feed for several hours to days, depending on the type of tick. On dogs, ticks often attach themselves in crevices and/or areas with little to no hair, typically in and around the ears, the areas where the insides of the legs meet the body, between the toes, and within skin folds.
Most species of ticks go through four life stages: eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adults. All stages beyond eggs will attach to a host for a blood meal (and must do so in order to mature).
Depending on species, the lifespan of a tick can be several months to years, and female adults can lay hundreds to thousands of eggs at a time. The following types of ticks are among the most common seen in North America:
- Deer tick
- Brown dog tick
- Lone star tick
- American dog tick
The Dangers of Ticks
Though they are known vectors of disease, not all ticks transmit disease.
In fact, many ticks do not even carry diseases. However, the threat of disease is always present where ticks are concerned, and these risks should always be taken seriously. Most tick-borne diseases will take several hours to transmit to a host, so the sooner a tick is located and removed, the lower the risk of disease. The symptoms of most tick-borne diseases include fever and lethargy though some can also cause weakness, lameness, joint swelling and/or anemia. Signs may take days, weeks or months to appear. Some ticks can cause a temporary condition called tick paralysis, which is manifested by a gradual onset of difficulty walking that may develop into paralysis. These signs typically begin to resolve after the tick is removed. If you notice these or any other signs of illness in your dog, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible so that proper testing and necessary treatments can begin. The following are some of the most common tick-borne diseases:
If you live in a region where ticks are found, you should check your dog for ticks after coming in from the outdoors, especially if he has been in a wooded area. Ticks should be safely removed and dogs watched for signs of tick-borne illnesses. Dogs at risk for ticks should be treated with some form of tick prevention.