Ticks, like fleas, are found in most areas of the world, particularly those that are well vegetated with lots of grasses, brushes and trees. Ticks are blood sucking insects that attach themselves to the skin of any mammal and can stay attached for several days or until they have finished feeding. Ticks can carry a condition known as Lyme disease that can have several different symptoms in dogs. The condition is actually caused by a bacteria found in the tick known by the scientific name of borrelia burgdorferi. Not all ticks can transmit the bacteria, but there are three different tick species that can, the most common being the Deer Tick that is found in most areas across North America and other areas of the world.
Dogs with Lyme disease will typically be fine one day and then start to go lame in one leg, typically a front leg. The lymph nodes will swell and the dog will start to experience a great deal of pain in walking around or moving. As the disease progresses all legs and joints will become stiff and painful with the dog typically not wanting to move. The dog will also have a very high fever and will typically not want to eat or drink. Since the disease intensifies so rapidly, usually going from few symptoms to extreme symptoms in a few days, it can often be misdiagnosed as another condition such as a cancer, autoimmune disease or even a blood disorder. Often the ticks are so small that the owner may not even be aware that the dog has been bitten. If left untreated the condition can effect the heart and neurological symptoms and may become life threatening. Treatment with antibiotics in early stages will often be very effective in treating Lyme disease. In areas where Deer Ticks or other bacteria carrying tick species are present most owner simply vaccinate the dog for Lyme disease, thereby eliminating the possibility of the dog become sick if infected.
Tick Life Cycle
Unlike most parasites and insects ticks actually have a fairly long life cycle with some species needing three years to reach maturity where they will produce eggs or mate. Mature female ticks lay eggs in the late spring or fall after they have finished feeding. The female tick feeds, then falls off the host animal and dies on the ground. The eggs are left on the soil surface under the dead winter vegetation where they stay dormant until the warmer weather of the following spring.
In the spring the eggs hatch into larva that will typically attach to a small rodent such as a mouse, rat, squirrel or mole. The vermin actually carry the , borrelia burgdorferi bacteria in their blood, and this is where the tick first becomes infected and becomes a carrier. The larva will stay attached to the mouse or rodent until it feeds, at which time it will release from the skin and fall back to the ground. These tiny little six legged larva are actually very mobile and will often climb up blades of grass in areas where small rodents travel. Once the larva has fed and fallen to the ground, it will again hibernate and wait out the colder weather until the warm spring temperatures arrive. At this time they evolve into the eight legged nymphs which again climb on grass or sticks and attach themselves to passing mammals to feed. In some ticks the nymph will mature into an adult in one season, but in others there is another hibernation over the winter before they are completely mature and ready to feed, mate and produce eggs.
During the tick life cycle the concentration of the harmful bacteria in the ticks body becomes stronger, resulting in the small amount of saliva required to transmit the bacteria from the tick to the dog. Lyme disease cannot be transmitted from dogs to humans, but humans can get Lyme disease directly from ticks.
If you live in an area with ticks it is a good idea to have the dog on a regular flea and tick treatment combination. Many of the monthly topical flea treatments also include a tick repellent that is fairly effective in preventing ticks from attaching and sucking the dog's blood. In addition vaccinating the dog for Lyme disease is highly recommended.
If you do find a tick on the dog the most important thing is to remove the tick as quickly as possible. There are special tweezers that can be used to remove the ticks without leaving the head imbedded in the flesh. It is very important to remove all the tick and not leave the head in the flesh as this can lead to infections and further complications. To correctly remove a tick use the special tick removal tweezers or other tweezers and grasp the head as close to the skin as possible. Do not grab the body as this can cause the saliva to be secreted into the bite area, which is exactly what you are trying to avoid. Once the tick is secured at the head with the tweezers, pull the tick straight back and out. Do not twist or rock the tick back and forth, nor should you try to pull in out by bending it in the opposite direction. Pull it only in the direction of a straight line into the skin, and apply gently and uniform pressure.
There are many people that report that you can kill a tick by coating it with Vaseline or petroleum jelly, or by burning it with a match. Not only do these things not work but they are more likely to cause the tick to dig in deeper and secrete more bacterial containing saliva. If you are concerned about the species of tick on the dog take the tick to a vet for identification and the vet may prescribe antibiotics or may just observe the dog to see if there is any chance it has been exposed to Lyme disease.