Ticks & Lyme Disease
What are ticks?
Ticks are a type of ectoparasite, meaning it is a type of parasite that lives on the outside of their host. While ticks will live on the outside of an animal, ticks bury their mouthparts into the skin, and produce a sticky, glue-like substance that allows them to attach to their host. Once latched on, the tick feeds on the blood of the host. There are various health risks associated with the tick. In very rare situations if your pet is afflicted with ticks, the parasites may consume enough blood to cause a deficiency known as anemia. Certain female ticks can also produce a toxin while they feed that causes paralysis, although this risk is also quite rare. As many pet owners know, the biggest concern associated with ticks is their transference of diseases, most commonly Lyme disease. Another example of a tick-transferred disease is Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Where are ticks found?
Ticks are most commonly found in woodland or grassy areas. The prevalence and types of ticks your pet may be exposed to can vary geographically. In Ontario, the most commonly found tick is the blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick. Deer ticks are known to carry Lyme disease, although not all ticks are carriers of the disease. Ticks are most active in spring and summer months, but can be found at any time of year when the temperature is above freezing.
What is Lyme disease?
As mentioned, the most commonly associated disease with ticks is Lyme disease. The symptoms of Lyme disease will typically only begin to develop several weeks after your pet has been bitten by an infected tick. Symptoms include fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, stiffness or joint pain and fever. In order to try and be proactive with treatment, it is recommended that you have your pet tested for Lyme disease after they are bitten by a tick. This test will need to be repeated approximately 4 to 6 weeks after the tick bite, as this is the time period Lyme disease will actually be detectable.
How can I protect my pet from Lyme disease and ticks?
While Lyme disease is a treatable ailment, it is best to prevent and protect your pet from tick-borne diseases. Preventative treatment can come in various forms, including topical and chewable. Your veterinarian can explain the difference between treatments, and recommend which one is right for you and your pet. Topical treatment typically will kill all major species of ticks through contact, prior to biting. Chewable treatments typically will kill the tick upon biting into the skin.
If you notice a tick on your pet, it may be difficult to remove the parasite, as ticks do an excellent job latching onto their host. It is recommended to take your pet to your veterinarian that they can remove the tick safely. Some experienced dog owner may remove the tick with a pair of tweezers, and pull upwards, slowly when pulling the parasite out. If you like, you may choose to keep the tick, so that you can bring it to your veterinarian to examine. To do so safely, place the tick in a container of alcohol to kill it. You may notice the area around the tick bite is red and appears irritated, this is normal. Keep an eye on your pet to monitor that the area of the bite heals, and also monitor for symptoms of Lyme disease. It is recommended to speak with your veterinarian if you find a tick on your pet, so that you and your veterinarian can appropriately plan and treat following the parasitic invasion.