Updated on September 6, 2015
Eight Tips for Keeping Your Dog Free of Tick-Borne Diseases
Ticks are such annoying little creatures, but far more significant than the nuisance factor is their ability to spread disease. Ticks that embed in a dog’s skin can transmit a variety of serious and even life threatening infectious diseases including:
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Lyme disease (Borrelia)
Another problem ticks can cause is a rare neurological condition called “tick paralysis.” Lastly, ticks can produce inflammation and bacterial infection right at the site of the bite.
Prevention is the golden rule when it comes to keeping your dog free from tick-borne diseases. Here are eight tried and true tips to accomplish this:
- Learn which season is “tick season.”
While ticks are prevalent throughout North America, the time of year they are problematic varies from region to region. Ask your veterinarian when tick season occurs in your neck of the woods. This will be the time of year to be most vigilant with tick control measures.
- Know the lay of the land.
Ticks prefer areas with dense vegetation. Much of their time is spent on the ground, but they are adept at crawling up to the top tips of shrubs and grasses. This vantage point enhances their ability to successfully leap onto an animal passing by. Best to avoid exposing your dog to such shrubby and grassy areas, particularly during tick season.
- Use tick prevention products.
There are a variety of products on the market that prevent and/or kill ticks. Some tick collars work well, but are not a good choice for dogs who do a lot of swimming or those who have “mouthy play” with other dogs (chemicals within the collar might be ingested by your dog’s playmate).
Other tick-prevention options include medication administered orally or applied topically (to the skin). There are a variety of products to choose from and most are combined with flea prevention medication. Talk with your veterinarian about which tick prevention products make the most sense for your dog.
- Frisk your dog daily.
Perform a daily “tick check” on your dog daily, particularly following outdoor excursions. Getting rid of the little buggers before they’ve had a chance to embed eliminates the possibility of disease transmission. The ticks’ favorite places to attach are your dog’s neck, head, and ears, so pay particularly close attention to these areas.
- Save the ticks you remove.
Sounds gross, I know, but saving the ticks you remove just might prove to be useful. Different species of ticks transmit different diseases. Given that symptoms of the various tick-borne diseases overlap, having knowledge of the type of tick your dog was exposed to may help your veterinarian hone in on a diagnosis more expediently. I recommend dunking and storing the ticks in a disposable container filled with isopropyl alcohol. Show them to your veterinarian should your dog become sick.
- Remove embedded ticks promptly and properly.
Do your best to remove any embedded ticks as soon as possible. Less time spent attached to your dog lessens the odds of disease transmission.
You’ll find dozens of recommendations on line describing how to remove an embedded tick. Be wary of what you read. Burning a tick with a hot match is not effective, and you risk singeing your dog’s haircoat. Coating the tick with Vaseline or some other type of lubricant does nothing but render the tick slippery and more difficult to remove. And acetone, such as the chemical found in nail polish removers, causes the tick to become brittle and more likely to shatter during the removal process.
A preferred method involves using tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Gentle, steady pulling should extract the parasite in its entirety. Even with this method, sometimes the head of the tick is left behind. Not to worry. The dog’s immune system will take care of the tick part that remains.
Talk with your veterinarian about his or her preferred method for removing embedded ticks. Whichever method you choose, be sure to wear gloves so as to eliminate any risk of disease transmission for yourself.
- Consider the Lyme disease vaccine.
The Lyme disease vaccine has been available now for several years. Most veterinarians who specialize in infectious diseases continue to recommend against vaccinating dogs who do not live in areas where there is a high incidence of Lyme disease. Additionally, there is lack of agreement about exactly how much protection the vaccine provides. Discussion with your veterinarian on this topic is certainly warranted.
- Know the symptoms.
Rest assured that the majority of dogs exposed to ticks never develop a tick-borne disease. But for those who do, early recognition of symptoms and prompt veterinary attention enhance the likelihood of a positive outcome. If your dog has tick exposure, talk with your veterinarian about what symptoms you should be on the look out for.
Questions for your veterinarian
– When does tick season occur here?
– Which tick prevention products do you recommend for my dog?
– What method of tick removal do you recommend?
– Does the Lyme disease vaccination make sense for my dog?
– What are the symptoms of tick-borne disease that I should be watching for?
Have you had any experience with tick-borne disease in your dogs? What is your prevention strategy?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.