Ticks stuck into the skin of our dog or cat are actually a year-round problem. Warm winters favor ticks. These little vampires only become lethargic when the nighttime temperature drops below 4 degrees Celsius. Many people mistakenly believe that ticks are only found in dense forest thickets. Meanwhile, they live most often where they have the best chance of contact with the host. Even on city home lawns or paths trampled in grasses and shrubs. When walking a dog, we have to check its coat after each visit to a park, garden, meadow or field.
Some might say “a tick like a mosquito, it only sucks blood”. So where does this emphasis on protection against ticks come from? The problem is serious because ticks feed on wild animals, which are the main reservoir of various dangerous diseases (also for humans). They can easily become their carriers and spread to other people or animals. Therefore, it is worth protecting pets against parasites, and in addition, after a walk, carefully examine their skin, especially under the armpits, around the ears, eyes, elbows, tail base, under the collar, paws. You should also brush their hair. Before the tick sticks into the skin, it is tiny and easy to miss, resembling a pimple or eczema. It grows characteristically only during feeding.
What to do when we find a tick in a dog?
Get rid of the parasite as soon as possible. How to remove a tick? First of all, do not smear anything! No alcohol, oil or petroleum jelly. The body of the tick must not be squeezed, as this causes the withdrawn blood from the gastrointestinal tract of the parasite along with the saliva and germs under the skin. We do not catch the tick with our fingers (nails), but with tweezers or a forceps. Depending on the model of the tool, the tick is gently pulled out with a rotary movement or by prying it like a nail with a crowbar. Then we check that we have removed the entire tick. It happens that the tick breaks off, leaving the head in the dog’s body. What to do if the tick breaks off? Take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
The most common tick-borne diseases
Tick-borne diseases are difficult to notice at first glance, because the symptoms may resemble a cold: depression, lack of appetite or fever. This causes problems with a quick correct diagnosis, which is very important in the case of these diseases. Their treatment is usually long and not always effective, which is why anti-tick prophylaxis is so important.
Some of them (Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis) are also dangerous for humans. What are the most dangerous?
It is probably the most common tick-borne disease in dogs. It is caused by the protozoa Babesia canis and Babesia gibsoni. They attack the red blood cells, causing severe anemia which can kill the dog within a few days.
The first symptoms of babesiosis appear about 10-21 days after the bite and are non-specific: apathy, depression, elevated body temperature, lack of appetite, and even vomiting and diarrhea. And then we should go to the vet. Later on, there is hematuria, enlarged spleen and sometimes jaundice. As damaged blood cells are removed in the urine, irreversible changes in the kidneys can occur. Do not delay your visit to the veterinary clinic. When we observe a darker, rusty color of the urine, it may turn out that it is the last moment to save our pet.
There are also other symptoms, including vascular, neurological, visual, motor and digestive symptoms. Haemorrhage or clumped, damaged blood cells damage the vessels in internal organs.
A dog can also contract Babesiosis from another dog when bitten or during blood transfusions. Also, a pregnant female dog can pass protozoa to her puppies.
This disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi spirochetes and may be asymptomatic in most dogs. A characteristic symptom (if it occurs at all) is the so-called wandering erythema. This is redness with an outline that may make the lesion a target-like lesion. It most often appears at the site of a tick bite, but it can “wander”, that is, disappear and appear elsewhere. Approx. 5% develop apathy, lack of appetite and fever after 2-5 months after infection, and after some time swelling, lameness, problems with movement, affecting one or more joints. Joint symptoms may regress and re-emerge as a chronic disease, leading to degeneration. Articular borreliosis is called Lyme arthropathy or simply Lyme disease.
Sometimes, during the course of Lyme disease, we deal with glomerulonephritis, hepatitis, meningitis and myocarditis, limb paresis, and even epilepsy. Unfortunately, even long-term treatment of Lyme disease
With antibiotics, it is rarely possible to eliminate this infection completely.
Puppies can be vaccinated against Lyme disease from 3 months of age (3 doses at appropriate intervals), and even pregnant female dogs. In order for the protection to be still effective, the so-called booster vaccinations.
It is a viral disease responsible for TBE flavivirus. It is most severely severe and can kill a dog within days of the onset of symptoms. In addition to non-specific symptoms such as apathy, depression, lack of appetite, fever, there are also neurological symptoms: photophobia, hypersensitivity to sounds, hyperaesthesia, convulsions, balance disorders, limb paralysis, and exhaustion. The overall picture of the disease resembles rabies, so correct diagnosis is important.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for it, we can only alleviate the symptoms. So far, no vaccine for animals against tick-borne encephalitis has also been invented.
Means of protection against ticks
There are several ways to protect against ticks. Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages, and it is worth consulting a veterinarian about the choice of the product for a specific dog or cat. Regardless of the type of product, it is important to remember to feed it regularly to ensure your pet is constantly protected.
Essential oils (e.g. geranium, cedar) appear most often in the composition of repellent, and the most popular of tickicidal substances are: fipronil, imidacloprid, flumethrin, propoxur and permethrin (toxic for cats, it should not be used on dogs if we also have cat at home). We should not mix different repellents on our own (e.g. drops with a collar), as there may be reactions between the ingredients and unforeseen effects. As with all substances, we must be aware that the drops or collars may cause an allergic reaction.
These are remedies in the form of a ready-made solution in a pipette, which we apply under the hair to the skin on the nape, and in the case of large breeds also on the back. The key is to choose the version of the remedies in accordance with the weight of our pet, which ensures the right dose of the active substance.
We do not bathe the dog for at least 3-4 days before and after administration of the repellent. It penetrates the sebaceous glands of the skin and hair follicles, from where it flows along with sebum to the skin surface, creating a toxic barrier on the body. It hinders the freedom of feeding of the parasites, rendering them harmless in the moment of direct contact with the hair or skin. Active substances against ticks usually last about a month.
Flea and tick repellent collars (mainly made of fabric) are usually soaked in essential oils, which are only intended to discourage the parasites from being on the pet.
On the other hand, protective and insecticidal collars are usually made of plastics. The active substance from the collar is released continuously. In addition to deterring, they cause paralysis and quick death of the tick, even if by some miracle it manages to stick into the skin. They can be odorless and also waterproof. They must be in contact with the skin and it is very important that you wear them well. Tight enough that you can barely put two fingers between the dog’s skin and the collar. This can be a bit of a problem for dogs with long hair and thick hair. Once a month, it is worth wiping the collar with alcohol to remove impurities. They usually last several months.
Several years ago, flavored tablets that protect animals against ticks appeared on the market. They contain other antiparasitic substances than those in collars and drops. They arouse a lot of controversy.
First, the active substance is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, which may cause hypersensitivity reactions in the form of salivation, vomiting and / or diarrhea, and possibly liver damage after several years of use. Secondly, such pills do not act as a deterrent: the parasite (ticks, fleas, lice) must start feeding in order to come into contact with the poison. Therefore, administration of the tablet cannot completely eliminate the risk of tick-borne infections. On the other hand, when using this type of protection against ticks, it is not important whether the pet is in contact with water, because in this case it does not affect the effectiveness of the action. It lasts from one to three months, depending on the composition.
To sum up, ticks, although small, pose a great threat to us and our pets. They transmit serious diseases that can lead to death very quickly, and many of them are difficult to heal. So it’s better to prevent than to cure. Fortunately, there are plenty of ectoparasiticides on the market.