The Small But Mighty Parasite That You Need to Keep Off Your Dog

Photo by J. Nichole Smith |

Photo by J. Nichole Smith |

It’s an epidemic out there – seriously, some veterinary and human parisitologists warning that the ticks are taking over. And where there are ticks, there’s tick disease.

Veterinary parasitologist Dr. Michael Dryden of Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Manhattan calls it a “tick explosion.” And the fall out is tick disease.

Dryden says Lyme disease and other tick diseases are likely very under- diagnosed in dogs.

“It’s important to know if your dog might even have undetected tick disease,” says Dryden, who adds that he’s a big believer for testing for Lyme disease, and other tick diseases (two types of Anaplasma and two types of Ehrlichia) in a blood test that simultaneously detects heartworm. Any veterinarian can offer this test called the Snap 4Way Plus.

Dryden adds that symptoms of Lyme in dogs may be non-specific, broad and/or subtle, and can either mistaken for other illnesses or go undetected. When dogs feel generally ill, their owners may not notice as dogs have no way to tell us; they rarely call in sick to the office.

Internal medicine specialist Dr. Carrie White of Pearl City, HI describes additional symptoms as lameness (often lame on one leg one day, and then curiously lame on a different leg a few days later). Dogs with Lyme may run a fever, have swollen lymph nodes, might lose appetite for a day or two, or very rarely develop Lyme nephritis, which can lead to kidney failure.

The best offense against tick disease turns out to be a good defense. To do this there are four steps.

#1: Environment: If you know there are ticks in your backyard area, discourage them by creating an unfavorable tick environment. Ticks don’t thrive on concrete. Ticks have a particular affinity to low-hanging bushes and branches, so keep them away from the house. And perhaps most important, deter wildlife, especially deer.

White concedes that keeping Bambi and other wildlife away may be challenging, as many people enjoy have wild critters nearby, or even if they don’t – they may be challenging to deter. In the real world, for many people, managing the environment may be unrealistic.

#2: Tick checks: Check your dog for ticks daily. Tick disease isn’t immediately transmitted, and can take a few days to infect a dog. If you spot a tick, White says wear gloves to remove it. Using a tweezers or tick removing tool (available online and at many pet stores), simply pull straight out (without twisting). Save the tick so your veterinarian can identify it.

Depending on your dog, with all that dog hair, relying on the human eye to detect a tick is hardly an exact science. Even when engorged with blood, some ticks are quite small and may be hard to see.

#3: Products: “Tick products purchased with veterinary input do a very nice job, some even deter the ticks from getting on the pet in the first place,” says Dr. Michael Paul, past president of the Companion Animal Parasite Council.

Examples include topical spot-on solutions Vectra 3D and EFFITIX which may not allow a tick to attach in the first place, but if the tick does make it beyond the product barrier, it’s still dooms-day for ticks and also fleas.

Bravecto is a new chewable product that amazingly provides 12 weeks of tick (and flea) protection using new technology.

NexGard is a monthly chewable that also uses new technology to kill ticks (and fleas too). A monthly spot-on, called Frontline Plus, protects against ticks (and fleas).

Over-the-counter tick collars have – at best “iffy” effectiveness. However, exceptions are the Scalibor Protector Band which provides up to six months protection against ticks that carry Lyme disease, and a menu of other tick diseases (Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis). Just one collar every six months provides year-round protection. Another effective and safe collar is the Preventic collar, which paralyzes tick mouthparts to prevent feeding, and therefore transmission of disease is unlikely.

#4: Vaccination: White says, “Most human physicians are probably envious, as we can vaccinate our dogs against Lyme disease – which is a major problem in many parts of the county. And the region for Lyme continues to expand. “

White adds, “Truly the best protection is to deal with your environment as you’re able to; be vigilant about checking for ticks; use products suggested by your veterinarian and vaccinate.”

“By paying attention to tick disease, you’ll also provide a service to your own family,” says Paul. He agrees we can do more to protect our pets than to protect ourselves – and tick disease can be devastating to people; we just can’t do as much o protect people.

Dryden agrees, “The dog happens to be the sentinel animal for many tick disease, most importantly Lyme.”

Should pet owners be more proactive about considering the Lyme vaccine if they live where Lyme exists? “Oh, you bet!” Dryden says

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Positively Expert: Steve Dale

Steve is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant, has written several books, hosts two nationally syndicated radio shows, and has appeared on numerous TV shows including "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "National Geographic Explorer," and "Pets Part of the Family." Steve’s blog is


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