Well, it looks like spring has finally sprung, and after this long, cold winter I for one am glad and am looking forward to getting out and doing some hiking with the dogs. Each season has its own potential dangers for dogs that are out and about, and with the warming up of the earth comes the awakening of the ticks. Once the ground thaws, ticks emerge in search of warm-blooded animals for their next meal. Oftentimes, that meal is our dog and even possibly us. Ugh!
While many of us realize that ticks can carry diseases to humans, many people don’t realize the dangers of tick-borne diseases to the family dog. Not only are ticks nasty blood-sucking creatures, they can infect our dogs with several diseases including Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosis and canine anaplasmosis, and while it seems that locally Lyme disease is the most prevalent, all of them have been diagnosed in dogs that live in our community and all can cause serious problems for our canine companions if left untreated.
The most common symptom of a tick-borne disease in dogs is lameness, giving the appearance of an arthritic stiffness. It can be in one limb or all. Loss of appetite, depression, lethargy may or may not accompany the lameness. Often times in older dogs these symptoms are attributed to the normal aging process, so screening for tick-borne diseases should be a routine part of your dog’s annual vet visit.
Luckily, there are many things that we can do to help ensure that our dogs remain healthy during tick season. The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” definitely makes sense here. Most times the tick needs to be attached and feeding for a minimum of 18 hours for disease to be spread, so keeping ticks off our dogs or getting them off as soon as possible is the best defense.
Using a tick preventative on your dog is a good first line of defense. There are several on the market and I recommend speaking with your veterinarian to determine the best product for your dog. Tick repellents are also helpful, and there are some good natural, non-toxic products that help to repel ticks. Vaccines are available for Lyme disease, and if your dog frequents areas that are heavily infested with ticks, vaccination is a good idea. Keep in mind however, that the vaccine only helps to prevent Lyme disease, not any of the others.
During tick season, daily tick checks are also a good idea. An embedded tick will vary in size from a pinhead to a grape. You can brush your fingers backwards through your dog’s fur applying enough pressure to feel any small bumps. If you find something be sure to part the hair to the skin so that you can investigate and identify what it is. Remember to check between your dog’s toes, behind his ears, the underside of the ear flaps, under armpits and around the tail and head.
If you find a tick, you should remove it right away by grasping the tick very close to the skin with a pair of fine tipped tweezers. Applying steady pressure, pull the body away from the skin until it detaches. Dispose of the tick and cleanse the bite area with soap and water. Contrary to popular belief, you should not use petroleum jelly, a hot match or nail polish.
Most tick diseases can be treated successfully with broad spectrum antibiotics if caught early. Left untreated, they can compromise your dog’s health and severe cases can be fatal. The website www.dogsandticks.com  has a wealth of information including disease maps for many of the tick diseases.