Thousands of dogs are infected annually with dangerous tick-transmitted diseases, with the risk rising. Between 2006 and 2010, Veterinary Week reported a 30 percent increase in the rate of dogs exposed to tick-transmitted diseases. Here’s more on ticks and how to keep your pooch tick-free.
Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of their host, which can be an animal or a human. Although ticks are commonly thought of as insects, they are actually arachnids similar to scorpions, spiders and mites. All ticks have four pairs of legs (eight legs in total) as adults and have no antennae. Ticks are efficient carriers of disease because they attach firmly when sucking blood, feed slowly and may go unnoticed for a considerable time while feeding.
Adult ticks seek host animals and after consuming sufficiently on blood, mate and the male tick usually dies after this. During favourable environmental conditions, a female falls to the ground to lay her eggs, approximately 3,000 to 6,000 eggs. Females die soon after laying their eggs in protected habitats on the ground. The life cycle requires from as little as two months to more than two years, depending on the species. After the egg hatches, the tiny larva feeds on an appropriate host. The larva then develops into the larger nymph. The nymph feeds on a host and then molts into an even larger adult.
Ticks wait for host animals on the tips of grasses and shrubs, but not on trees. When brushed by a moving animal or a person, they quickly let go off the vegetation and climb onto the host. Ticks can only crawl; they cannot fly or jump. Ticks can be active on winter days if the ground temperatures are above 45oF.
Types of ticks…
There are two groups of ticks, sometimes called the ‘hard’ ticks (Ixodidae) and ‘soft’ ticks (Argasidae). Hard ticks, like the common dog tick, have a hard shield just behind the mouthparts; unfed hard ticks are shaped like a flat seed. Soft ticks do not have the hard shield and they are shaped like a raisin. Soft ticks prefer to feed on birds or bats and are seldom found on dogs or cats.
Major tick-borne diseases transmitted to dogs are:
- Canine Ehrlichiosis: This is the most common and most dangerous tick born infection. The infected dog exhibits fever, loss of appetite, depression, weight loss, runny eyes and nose, nose bleeds and swollen limbs, usually noticed few months after infection.
- Lyme Disease: This disease is transmitted by the deer tick. The affected dog shows stiffness, lameness, swollen joints, loss of appetite, fever and fatigue. Sometimes all the affected dogs may not show signs of the disease until several months after infected.
- Canine Babesiosis: It is typically transmitted by the brown dog tick. The common manifestation in the affected dog is anaemia and the associated signs include pale gums, weakness and vomiting.
- Canine Anaplasmosis: This is also called dog fever or dog tick fever which is transmitted from the deer tick. Symptoms are similar to other tick diseases including fever, loss of appetite, stiff joints and lethargy, but also can include vomiting, diarrhoea. In very severe cases the affected dogs may also show seizures.
- Canine Bartonellosis: It is transmitted by the brown dog tick. Common clinical manifestations of this tick born disease are intermittent lameness and fever. In more severe cases and if untreated, this disease can result in heart or liver disease.
- Canine Hepatozoonosis: It is thought to be transmitted by the brown dog tick. Dogs affected with this disease may show symptoms like fever, runny eyes and nose, muscle pain and diarrhoea with the presence of blood.
How to remove ticks from your pet?
Use blunt tweezers or disposable gloves to handle the tick. If you must use your fingers, shield them with a tissue or paper towel. Infectious agents may be contracted through mucous membranes or breaks in the skin simply by handling infected ticks. This is especially important for people who ‘de-tick’ pets because ticks infesting dogs and other domestic animals can carry Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis or other diseases capable of infecting humans.
Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. This reduces the possibility of the head detaching from the body upon removal.
Pull the tick straight out with a steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick as this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin, increasing the chances of infection. Continue applying steady pressure even if the tick does not release immediately. It may take a minute or two of constant, slow pulling to cause the tick to release. After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite area and wash your hands with soap and water.
Care for your pooch…
Tick-borne disease can rebound rapidly if your dog’s treatment only succeeded in suppressing, rather than killing ticks. Since recurring tick diseases are harder to control or eradicate, don’t relax too soon if the dog recovers. There are many tick control products for pets, including once-a-month topical products, sprays, powders, dips, shampoos, and collars… can be obtained in consultation with the specialist.
(Dr K Satish Kumar is Associate Professor (Medicine) and Head, VH Warangal while Dr D Srikala is Assistant Professor (Medicine), CVSc, Tirupati. They both work at the Department of Veterinary Medicine, Sri Venkateswara Veterinary University, College of Veterinary Science, Hyderabad).