The warmer weather and mild winter have resulted in prime conditions for many of the tiny creatures that like to feed off of our pets. Fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes are always a concern in this area, but anecdotally this year is starting off to be an especially tough year for ticks.
Ticks are active spring through summer lurking in tall grasses and leaf litter and dogs are especially prone to acquiring the eight-legged hitchhikers.
Once on the pet they will painlessly insert their mouthparts and begin feeding. Only female ticks will become engorged and swollen, then detach and fall off to lay eggs in the environment.
This can be a particularly troubling aspect of their life cycle, since that can be an opportunity for ticks to become introduced inside the house.
There are many diseases spread by ticks to people and pets, but Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Canine Ehrlichiosis are the most common in this region. Lone star ticks, the black legged/deer tick, and the American brown dog tick are the species in Ohio that are the culprits in transmission of these illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a good identification chart on its Web site at cdc.gov/ticks/life_cycle_and_hosts.html.
Fortunately Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are relatively rare in northwest Ohio, but the black legged/deer tick that transmits Lyme disease is becoming well established in Ohio and it is only a matter of time before our area is affected.
Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs in the early stages are limping, which then can progress to affect many body systems including the eyes, kidneys, and central nervous system. Blood tests can detect antibodies to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease and are an indication for further testing and if symptomatic, it is treated with the common antibiotic doxycycline. Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Ehrlichiosis affect platelets, which are part of the body's ability to clot blood. Small bruises called petechiae develop on the skin and mouth and if untreated can lead to anemia and death. Blood tests are available for both diseases and if caught early treatment is often successful.
There are a number of effective preventives available for dogs that can prevent ticks from becoming attached and taking a blood meal.
Ask your veterinarian what would be best for your pet's lifestyle. Since some ticks can take up to two hours after coming in contact with your pet before biting, careful examination of feet, legs, and the underside will allow you to safely remove them with a comb or tweezers.
Never burn a tick off of yourself or your pet because a nasty burn and an angry dog are the likely outcome. If the tick is attached, use tweezers to grab the buried head by the skin and apply constant, gentle pressure until you feel the tick release to avoid detaching the head and leaving it behind in the skin.
With regular use of preventives and diligence after you and your pets are in areas with ticks, you can minimize the hassle and worry.
If your dog develops any symptoms after exposure to ticks or tick endemic areas, do not hesitate to have him evaluated by your veterinarian.
Early detection and treatment are crucial for a good outcome with tick-borne diseases.
Questions for Dr. Gary Thompson can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.