Ticks are present in Alberta, even in the cities, and may be in your own backyard!

What are Ticks?
Small external parasites that are members of the arachnid (spider family). They have 8 legs and their bodies are commonly a sunflower seed shape. They may be hard or soft. The picture shows a tick before and after a feed.

Why are Ticks dangerous?
They can carry many different diseases that can make you and your pets very ill, such as lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis and Erlichiosis.

What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease can cause severe pain, swelling, fever, limping and a loss of appetite. Unlike people bitten by Lyme infected ticks, pets do not get the characteristic “bull’s-eye” rash at the site of the bite within three to thirty days. People can only get Lyme disease from infected ticks.

How is Lyme disease treated?
Lyme disease can be controlled by antibiotics. However, a lengthy course of treatment is necessary. Sometimes the initial antibiotic chosen may not be effective, and a number of other types may need to be trialed before finding the right one.

What can you do to protect your pets?
The key is prevention. Keep your pets from being exposed to ticks. Ticks wait on the tips of grasses and shrubs and are not commonly found in trees. When brushed by a moving animal or person, they quickly climb onto the host. Ticks can only crawl; they cannot fly or jump. Keeping pets from thick underbrush reduces their exposure to ticks. Dogs should be kept on trails when walked near wooded or tall grass areas.

Prevent ticks from attaching. K9 Advantix offers proven protection against ticks. It repels and kills ticks before they can attach. With K9 Advantix, ticks are repelled and killed before they can bite, reducing the potential risk of a tick-transmitted disease. K9 Advantix is a liquid that is applied to the skin of your dog and is absorbed only at the skin level. One application lasts approximately 1 month.

A vaccine is available for protecting dogs against Lyme disease. This vaccine initially requires a booster. Annual revaccination depending on the risk of your pet may be necessary to maintain immunity. The vaccine is safe and effective. Be sure to discuss any questions you may have regarding the type and frequency of vaccination with your veterinarian. To book an appointment for the vaccine call Chestermere Veterinary Clinic at (403) 272-3573. Note that this vaccine does not protect your pet against the other diseases that ticks can transmit, therefore it is still important to limit tick exposure and to prevent them from attaching.

How can you protect yourself?
Cover up as much skin as you can when you’re going to be in wooded or grassy areas. Wear a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants with the legs tucked into your socks. It’s a good idea to wear light-colored clothes so ticks are easier to identify. Check yourself for ticks after you’ve been outside. Use a bug spray that contains the chemical DEET to repel ticks.

What should you do if you find a tick?
Check your pet immediately after it has been in a tick-infected area. Some ticks are about pinhead size in juvenile stage, but a little more obvious in adult phase and after feeding. If you find a tick moving on your pet, the tick has not fed. Remove the tick promptly. If you find a tick attached to your pet, grasp the tick with blunt tweezers near the pet’s skin and firmly pull it straight out (this reduces the possibility of the head detaching from the body upon removal). Do not twist or jerk the tick as this may cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin, increasing the chances of infection. Continue applying steady pressure even if the tick does not release immediately. It may take a minute or two of constant, slow pulling to cause the tick to release. You may need another person to help restrain your pet. Removing the tick quickly is important since the disease is not transmitted until the tick has fed for approximately twelve hours. If you crush the tick, do not get the tick’s contents, including blood, on your skin. The disease can pass through a wound or cut in your skin. Use blunt tweezers or disposable gloves to handle the tick. If your fingers must be used, shield them with a tissue or paper towel.

After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite area and wash your hands with soap and water. Home remedies such as applying petroleum jelly, grease, or a hot match to the rear of the tick are not recommended and do not work. These practices cause the tick to salivate and can actually increase the chance of transmitting disease.

After removing the tick, put it into a small container with a piece of moistened cloth. Be sure to label the container with information about the time and place where the tick bite occurred. This activity will help you to remember details of the incident if symptoms associated with tick transmitted diseases appear later. This information will also be of help to a veterinarian or physician diagnosing an illness. Bring the tick to your veterinarian (if you found the tick on yourself, take it to your doctor) so it can be submitted for testing (this test is no charge). If you do not think you are able to remove the tick yourself, bring your pet into their veterinarian as soon as possible, the earlier a tick is removed, the better chance your pet has against disease.

Erlichiosis – Symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, respiratory distress, weight loss, bleeding disorders, and occasionally neurological disturbances. Dogs experiencing severe anemia or bleeding problems may require a blood transfusion. However, this does nothing to treat the underlying disease. Certain antibiotics are quite effective, but a long course of treatment may be needed.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever – Symptoms include loss of appetite, fever, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, painful muscles and joints, dizziness, depression, stupor, seizures swollen lymph nodes, bleeding in the eyes, nose or stool, and fluid accumulation in the face and legs. Some animals develop pneumonia or heart problems, which can lead to sudden death. Renal failure can occur. The disease is treated with antibiotics. Dogs who have severe damage to their nervous systems may not recover completely.

Babesiosis – Symptoms include a wide variety of symptoms ranging in severity all the way from a sudden collapse to an infection with no apparent symptoms. The prognosis for a dog diagnosed with babesiosis is guarded. Owners should be aware that dogs that have survived babesiosis often remain infected. These dogs may suffer a relapse of disease in the future or may serve as a source for the further spread of disease as babesiosis can be transmitted to other dogs through scrapes or wounds.

For these diseases, the only prevention is limiting tick exposure and repelling ticks with a product like K9 Advantix. There are no effective vaccines available.

If your pet is not already on a tick prevention program, please call Chestermere Veterinary Clinic at (403) 272-3573 to discuss how we can help you protect your pets.

This blog is based on material written by Ernest Ward, DVM © Copyright 2005 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. June 13, 2010

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