‘Tis the season! – Pesky Pests Part One: Ticks

Spring has arrived here in the Midwest, and along with budding trees and blooming flowers, we and our beloved canines find ourselves facing something a little less enjoyable – summer pests! Yep, you guessed it, ‘tis the season for ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes! 

Join me as we dive into a three-part series discussing these pests and ways we can protect our furry friends from them.

Ticks – Why the concern?

Despite their teeny, tiny size, these creatures are mighty and require awareness of the potential health impacts they can have on our dogs, as well as us. Let’s discuss what ticks to look out for, the diseases associated with them, and the testing you can do to see if your dog has been exposed.

What ticks are in my area?

According to PestWorld.org, there are approximately 850 tick species world-wide, and of that, about 90 species are present in the United States. Yikes! 

If you are like us here at That’s My Dog!, centrally located in the Midwest, you are no stranger to ticks. In fact, the Midwest states and states in the Northeast tend to have the greatest prevalence of ticks and tick associated diseases.

Although there are roughly 90 different species of ticks here in the US, there are five that warrant the most caution due to the diseases they could carry:

  • Black Legged Tick – also known as a Deer Tick
  • American Dog Tick – also known as a Wood Tick
  • Brown Dog Tick
  • Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
  • Lone Star Tick

Given that I adventure with my dogs in wooded areas, especially while camping and hiking, I have found and identified at least three of these species on myself and my dogs. And now especially, when spring temps are beginning to warm and humidity is beginning to rise, ticks are highly active. Being vigilant in checking yourself and your dogs after outdoor fun is key to prevention! To determine if these above ticks are located in your state, visit the CDC’s website: Regions Where Ticks Live

What diseases do I need to be concerned about for my dog?

There are many diseases ticks carry, but the one that draws the most attention and concern is Lyme disease. This disease is primarily associated with the Black Legged Tick (Deer Tick). Not every Deer Tick carries the disease, but there is no way to know unless the specific tick you find is sent in for testing. Therefore, when it comes to ticks, I assume every one has a disease. Albeit pessimistic, this mentality prompts me to practice better prevention and attention to keeping my dogs  safe.

Other tick borne diseases that can impact your dog include:

  • Anaplasmosis – transmitted by the Deer tick.
  • Ehrlichiosis – transmitted by multiple tick species.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever – transmitted by multiple tick species.

How do I know if my dog has contracted a tick borne disease?

Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs are very similar to symptoms humans may experience. These include:

  • Joint pain/swelling
  • Lameness
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Lack/loss of appetite
  • Bulls eye rash at the location of the tick bite
  • Kidney failure (in extreme cases)

The trouble is, some dogs may go asymptomatic. This is why annual testing is so important, especially if you know your dog has been in locations where ticks are prevalent (woods, tall grasses, thick brush, etc.). Additionally, as our Midwest winters become milder and milder, ticks are becoming more resilient and populations are increasing rapidly. In fact, according to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, 1 in every 20 dogs tested for Lyme disease (in a US population estimated to be about 90 million dogs) had a positive diagnosis in 2021 … And the forecast for Lyme disease prevalence this year looks sadly worse.

Other tick borne disease symptoms can include:

  • Anaplasmosis – This is a disease that attacks the bloodstream in a dog, commonly causing heavy bruising, and in extreme cases uncontrolled bleeding.
  • Ehrlichiosis – Similar symptoms as Lyme disease, but can also cause neurological issues and weakens the immune system with prolonged exposure.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever – Similar symptoms as Lyme disease, but uniquely can present through nose bleeds and/or hemorrhages in the eyes and gums.

I found an attached tick on my dog, what now?

The first step is removing it from your dog. This can be done through a variety of ways and is commonly based on your comfort level; I choose to remove a tick from my dog by hand. Because the diseases ticks carry are transmissible to humans I make sure to wear gloves when doing so. The key to removing a tick is making sure you remove the ENTIRE tick. If the head is left attached/embedded in the skin, infection can occur. Other options include using tools like a forceps or a handy Tick Key.

If removing it yourself is not your cup of tea, be sure to call your veterinarian for assistance – many staff members at vet clinics are trained to remove ticks safely, so they may even be able to do it without an appointment. 

The biggest point to all of this, especially when you KNOW your dog had a tick attached to them, is to test them for potential diseases. According to an article published by lymedisease.org, in order for ticks to transmit disease, they need to be attached for at least 24-48 hours. Within this time and beyond, they are taking in a blood meal causing an engorged appearance to them. So if you find an engorged tick on your dog, chances are that it has been on him for at least 48 hours.

For Lyme disease, and many of the other tick borne diseases, it is recommended to wait a minimum of 4 weeks from the date the tick was attached/removed in order to get an accurate test result. Many veterinary offices have tick disease tests that are able to be run in-house with a very small blood sample. The IDEXX 4DX Snap Test is a great example of this, and tests for three different tick diseases (plus Heartworm) all in one. 

For my own dogs, especially living in the Midwest, I make sure to test them every spring even if I did not remove any ticks from them the previous year. There is always a chance that I may have missed one, or that the preventatives I’ve used weren’t strong enough to fully protect him. It is a small step to take to keep my dogs happy and healthy and I encourage you to do the same!

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for Pesky Pests Part Two – Tick Prevention. We’ll be discussing the many options to keep your dogs safe from ticks and prevent disease. In the meantime, get out there with your dogs and have fun (but check them over for ticks afterwards ?)!

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