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Published: Sunday, 7/13/2014

Protect your pet from diseases carried by ticks


Some of you may have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with ticks on either yourself or your pets. Spring and summer tend to be the periods when you are most likely to encounter a tick while out and about. While this winter was especially harsh, I wouldn’t harbor any hope about it impacting the tick population because they are well-adapted to dealing with cold. 

Once the warm and wet weather returns, they emerge with a vengeance.

Tall grasses and weeds are prime habitat for ticks. They are sensitive to changes in temperature, movement, and carbon dioxide, stimulating them to attach to a passing host. Ticks go through various life stages and prefer different animals during each transition, but often any mammal will do.

However, they might take a while to crawl to their desired position, which on dogs and cats are the toes, ears, groin, and armpits. Not surprisingly, these are the locations that offer the best protection against the pet grooming the tick off.

Ticks also have a natural anesthetic in their saliva that hides their bite. A common misconception is that if the tick is not swollen or engorged, it did not bite and feed. Only female ticks will remain attached for an extended period of time, leading to the classic bloated tick. 

Males will bite, feed, and fall off to move along to find the special someone he needs to settle down and a have a few hundred baby ticks.

This aspect of his life cycle is especially dangerous, because ticks carry a number of diseases that can infect people and pets alike and you may never know you were bitten.

Most of the diseases that afflict people also cause problems in dogs. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there are approximately 14 diseases spread by ticks in the United States that affect humans, and many of the same diseases affect dogs.

Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), and ehrlichiosis are the primary conditions seen in the Midwest region. Lyme disease in dogs can produce a number of symptoms but most commonly painful joints or an unknown fever develops initially. 

These can become chronic problems, and kidney failure can also be a long-term consequence of untreated Lyme disease.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis symptoms are related the type of blood cell they infected. RMSF infects blood platelets which are part of the clotting process, so small areas of hemorrhage are seen — hence the spotted part of the name.

Ehrlichiosis causes low white blood cell counts and can also cause bleeding, fever, or inflammation of blood vessels called vasculitis. Some dogs can recover and be a lifelong carrier, which can serve as a reservoir for infection. Blood tests are used to diagnose these diseases, and treatment is generally successful if caught early with a common antibiotic, doxycycline.

Currently Lucas and Wood County are not considered endemic for these diseases, which means there have not been two or more cases in people reported to the Ohio Department of Health. 

A vaccine is available for dogs, so ask your veterinarian if it is appropriate for your dog’s lifestyle. More importantly, prevention of ticks on your pets is a critical part of preventing all the tick-borne diseases. A number of preventive treatments are available and are safe and easy to use, so ask your veterinarian what you should use.

Questions for Dr. Gary Thompson can be emailed to askthevet@theblade.com 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.

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