Ticks are small arachnids that feed on blood. Unlike fleas, ticks will attach to the skin, feeding for a period of days until they become engorged and fall off. Ticks are usually found outside, and prefer tall grasses but can be found in almost all conditions. Ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing. The growing tick population is a great concern due to their propensity to transmit diseases. This area commonly sees Deer ticks, Dog ticks, and Lone star ticks. Together, these species are responsible for transmitting Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, and Ehrlichiosis (although cats are unable to contract Lyme disease). These three diseases can be diagnosed on a SNAP test that can be run in the clinic using a few drops of blood. Any time you find a tick on your pet it should be removed immediately. If the tick has embedded it will likely leave a raised, red area on the skin. The area should be watched for signs of infection but requires no special care. Prophylactic treatment with Doxycycline is sometimes appropriate.
You can remove an embedded tick at home by grasping it as close to the skin as possible (with tweezers, your fingers, or a specialized tick removal tool) and pulling firmly straight back. It is NOT necessary to remove the head of the tick if you believe it is still in your dog. You do not need to do anything to treat the wound, but you may use hydrogen peroxide and antibiotic ointment if you wish. Some degree of redness and swelling around the area is normal. Watch for signs of infection such as a malodorous smell, discharge, increasing redness and painful swelling. It takes at least 3 weeks from the time of infection to detect Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, or Ehrlichiosis on a SNAP test.
Using a preventative tick medication is the best way to protect your pet from ticks. Frontline Plus is a topical monthly medication (that can be used as often as every 3 weeks)that is safe for dogs and cats. Frontline Plus is transported through the lipid layer in the skin, and kills all tick species seen in this area. Ticks may still attach, but will be killed before transmitting disease. Activyl TickPlus is safe for dogs only and should be used very carefully in households with cats. Activyl TickPlus is a topical once monthly product, that is also transported through the lipid layer in the skin, and kills all tick species seen in this area. Activyl TickPlus is a repellent, and ticks do not need to bite your dog to be killed. Scalibor collars are safe for dogs only. They are effective for 6 months and contain very small amounts of a drug, Deltamethrin, which is released into the lipid layer of your dog’s skin. Scalibor collars will repel all ticks within 2-4 weeks.
Keeping the grass in your yard cut short can help decrease the number of ticks that your pet has access to. Ticks can be found in almost any area but they prefer high grass and areas with a lot of leaf litter. Fencing in your yard to prevent deer and other wildlife from entering can also help to limit your pet’s exposure to ticks. Checking your pet for ticks every day is also important in preventing disease transmission. The sooner they are detected and removed the less likely it is that they will be able to transmit disease.