Tick Safety For Dogs


Tick Safety for Dogs

Ticks are a delicacy—for Guinea Hens. But dogs are a delicacy for ticks. The tiny arachnids are known to carry at least ten different vector-borne diseases, often more than one at a time, which can lead to coinfections that complicate diagnosis as well as treatment. And it only takes one bite. Fortunately, if caught early, treatments can be effective. Still, your best weapon is prevention. Here's everything you need to know.


How To Keep Ticks Off Dogs

Basic Tick Bite Prevention

  • After returning from a walk or hike, brush your dog with a fine-tooth comb. Ticks usually explore to find the perfect spot, so you can catch them before they embed.
  • Vacuum once a week, emptying the bag every time, and wash dog bedding once a week in hot, soapy water.
  • Create a barrier between your living and play spaces, and any wooded areas beyond. Gravel or wood chips each deter ticks. Keep shrubs and tall grass out of play spaces. Consider a solid or invisible fence to keep your dog within the safe zone.
  • Mow and rake frequently. Ticks lay eggs in dead leaves, and hang out on tall grass when looking for hosts.
  • Deter common tick hosts: use specialty fencing to keep deer off your property, and remove vegetation that attracts them. And store wood beyond your tick barrier to deter rodents.

Chemical Tick Repellents

  • Insecticides and dusts for plants
  • Topical sprays
  • Spot-on applications
  • Oral treatments
  • Tick collars

There are dozens of products and brands designed to keep you and your dog tick-free. They are effective, and when dosed accurately, are usually safe for your dog. But accurate dosage — depending on size, weight, age, and breed, among other factors — is critically important and can be difficult to understand. Further, some of the ingredients are regulated by the FDA and others by the EPA, but the agencies have different testing procedures. Thousands of lawsuits are pending, resulting from pet illness and/or death. The bottom line: read labels, research ingredients, and consult your veterinarian in advance of using chemical flea and tick repellents.

Natural Tick Repellents

  • Essential oils: Many plant oils, including rose geranium, pennyroyal, and oregano, are cited as effective tick repellents or, in some cases, killers. Although a handful of studies have been done, most evidence is anecdotal, and concentrations vary. If you're curious, try making your own: mix about 20 drops of rose geranium oil with 2 tablespoons of almond oil. Spread drops on the collar area or shoulder blades, at the ankles, and above the tail. Apply it to your own body as well, behind the knees, around the ankles, and at the wrists. Or purchase one of the many natural tick repellents on the market.
  • Electromagnetic products: These claim to create an electromagnetic field that keeps ticks and fleas away. Results are inconclusive; experiment at your own risk.
  • Familiarize yourself with the ticks living in your area. Know what they carry and how to recognize the symptoms. There are around 900 species of ticks, but only a small number of those carry disease. Among that group, some prefer areas forested with deciduous trees, while others thrive in areas devoid of trees. Some are prevalent in the Eastern United States, and others in the West. Some carry disease during any life cycle, while others do only as adults.
  • The most common vector-borne diseases affecting humans and pets are Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, relapsing fever, and Colorado tick fever. Lyme is far and away the most common tick-borne disease. Antibiotics cure Lyme when it is caught early, but it often becomes chronic and debilitating if it is diagnosed too late.
  • Most of these diseases cause flu-like symptoms, which can appear up to a few weeks after a bite. Further, the rash or tell-tale ring around a bite doesn't always appear, even if an infection has occurred. The only way to know with certainty that you or your dog has been infected is to check diligently for bites, and to be tested regularly.


Tick-Borne Diseases

  • Familiarize yourself with the ticks living in your area. Know what they carry and how to recognize the symptoms. There are around 900 species of ticks, but only a small number of those carry disease. Among that group, some prefer areas forested with deciduous trees, while others thrive in areas devoid of trees. Some are prevalent in the Eastern United States, and others in the West. Some carry disease during any life cycle, while others do only as adults
  • The most common vector-borne diseases affecting humans and pets are Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, relapsing fever, and Colorado tick fever. Lyme is far and away the most common tick-borne disease. Antibiotics cure Lyme when it is caught early, but it often becomes chronic and debilitating if it is diagnosed too late.
  • Most of these diseases cause flu-like symptoms, which can appear up to a few weeks after a bite. Further, the rash or tell-tale ring around a bite doesn't always appear, even if an infection has occurred. The only way to know with certainty that you or your dog has been infected is to check diligently for bites, and to be tested regularly.


How To Remove A Tick From A Dog

Once a day, run your fingers through your dog's fur everywhere: head to toe, behind the ears, behind the joints. Inspect any bumps you feel. If a tick is found within 24 hours of biting, there’s a good chance your dog has not been infected with Lyme, which takes time to transmit. Even if your pup has been infected, treatments are most effective following early detection.

Don't:

  • panic and reach for a match, petroleum jelly, or gasoline. These increase the likelihood of the tick vomiting inside your dog, spewing out any diseases it may carry.
  • pull so hard that the tick's body separates from its head, which will remain embedded and increases the risk of infection.
  • squeeze the tick too hard while pulling, lest you push its insides into your pup. You want to keep the tick alive and intact until it's completely removed from your dog.

Do:

  • firmly grasp the tick's body as close as possible to your dog's skin with a pair of tweezers — but, again, not so that you puncture or squish it — and then gently tug until the tick gives up and releases its bite.
  • consider purchasing a tool specifically designed for tick removal. There are many on the market, but the tick key is the most effective. Its shape is designed so that your pull exerts just the right force to safely remove an intact tick from the skin.
  • wrap the tick in a damp but not wet paper towel, so its body stays hydrated. Place it all in a Ziploc bag, write the date on it, and toss it in the fridge. Then call your vet about getting the specimen tested to determine if it's carrying diseases.


Tick Treatments For Dogs

Before A Bite

  • Consider vaccinating for Lyme disease. The vaccine won't protect your pooch from other vector-borne diseases — or protect you and your family, for that matter — but it is a powerful line of defense.

After A Bite

  • Call your vet about running diagnostic tests immediately. Some vector-borne diseases can be transmitted shortly after a tick embeds.

General Upkeep

  • Vector-borne diseases can be difficult to self-diagnose. Ensure your dog is tested for them at each annual veterinary checkup. The test can be run alongside the annual heartworm screening, so there are no additional procedures.

Ticks seem scary, but avoiding them doesn't have to consume your worries or keep you inside. Most ticks carry no diseases. And most bites lead to nothing. The specter of ticks is no reason not to let your dog roam or not to enjoy hikes together. Just follow the steps outlined above, consult your vet, and above all, stay informed.


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