Pets column: Ticks are more than just unpleasantI love owning dogs in Duluth. In the summer, we enjoy swimming in lakes and rivers, running on sandy beaches and exploring the area’s beautiful wooded trails.
By: Amy Miller, For the Budgeteer News
I love owning dogs in Duluth. In the summer, we enjoy swimming in lakes and rivers, running on sandy beaches and exploring the area’s beautiful wooded trails.
However, after spending 30 minutes picking ticks off my dogs post-hike the other day, I remembered that these fun outdoor activities also come with a risk: an increased exposure to ticks.
Just hearing the word “tick” will make many people squirm and anxiously comb through their hair in search of imaginary crawlers. While ticks can be bothersome and unpleasant, they also pose a real threat — the transmission of serious diseases that affect both us and our pets.
My recent experience made me realize how little I know of ticks and how they may affect my pets, so I invited Dr. Mary Wictor, shelter veterinarian for Animal Allies, to share her knowledge about these critters. Here is what Wictor wrote:
Deer and wood ticks
A number of tick species can transmit disease, but the two main culprits in Minnesota and Wisconsin are the blacklegged tick (Lxodes scapularis) — also known as the “deer tick” — and the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) — often called the “wood tick.”
The blacklegged tick, or deer tick, is found throughout much of the United States. It thrives in places with a large population of deer, its primary host. Deer ticks are tiny (an adult female is only 3-4 mm in length), making them very difficult to find in a dog’s fur. While deer ticks can transmit a number of infectious bacteria when they feed, Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis are the most prevalent in our area.
The American dog tick, or wood tick, is also found throughout most of the country. Wood ticks are much larger than deer ticks: females measure about ¼ of an inch long, growing to as much as ½ inch when engorged. Dogs are the preferred host for this tick, but they will also feed on other mammals. Wood ticks are very hardy, and can even live up to three years without feeding if a host is not
Ticks cannot fly or jump, but instead cling to branches and leaves and reach out with their front legs waiting for contact with a passing animal. Once they find a host, they may attach quickly or wander over its body for a time. Ticks do not “bite,” but rather insert their mouthparts into the animal’s skin, remaining attached for days to weeks while they slowly feed. It is while feeding that they can transmit bacteria that cause disease.
These diseases have fairly nonspecific symptoms. Often described as “flu-like” in humans, in dogs the signs of disease can range from fever, lethargy, poor appetite and lameness to heart or kidney damage. Unlike in humans, it is nearly impossible to find the classic rash indicating tick exposure on our pets. Therefore, blood tests are used to diagnose these tick-borne diseases, but they can be expensive.
Treatment is straightforward: a course of antibiotics. However, this has become problematic recently as the primary antibiotic used, doxycycline, is in very short supply, which is one main reason prevention before exposure is key.
Avoiding heavily wooded or brushy areas reduces exposure. Applying repellents that decrease the risk of attachment will also help prevent the transmission of tick-borne diseases.
After being outdoors, check for and remove any ticks. It can take as long as two days after attachment for a tick to transmit disease-carrying bacteria and not all ticks are infected so finding a tick does not necessarily mean that your pet is infected. While ticks can be found anywhere on a dog’s body, they tend to prefer the ears and armpits. The removal method I’ve found most effective (also suggested on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website) is to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible with tweezers and gently pull straight up with steady pressure. Check to make sure there are no other ticks present, as it is common for ticks to cluster together on a host. Applying chemicals or trying to burn ticks off with a match is not an effective means of
If you are concerned that your pet may have contracted a tick-borne disease or have questions regarding selecting a preventative for your pet, please consult your veterinarian.
Dr. Mary Wictor has been the shelter veterinarian at Animal Allies Humane Society for the past five years. She lives in Duluth with her husband, son, and four-legged family.
Amy Miller is the marketing and communications manager for Animal Allies Humane Society. She lives in Duluth with her husband and three adopted pets: dogs Maverick and Goose, and a cat named Buddy Love.