This is what I ask myself every spring. Spring is the season of birth and rebirth; puppies, kittens, calves, foals, greening of trees, grass; you know, happy things. So why do ticks hatch and spoil the party? The answer is: I don't know, but I do know that they show up every spring and are a serious health hazard.
Their populations increase rapidly as the temperatures warm, then decrease in the heat of the summer and increase somewhat in the fall. Dogs confined to small yards are exposed to much smaller numbers but are still susceptible. Hunting and working breeds that spend more time outdoors in fields and woods are in danger of severe infestations. Once on the dog they bite and hang on, feeding until engorged with blood. Then they drop off, lay eggs and the life cycle starts again. Obviously, the greater the number of ticks, the greater the chance of exposure to disease carried by these creatures.
There are several types of ticks, some common nationwide and others confined to certain geographic areas. Certain ticks carry certain diseases, all dangerous and life threatening.
1. Lyme Disease: The all star of tick borne diseases. It is carried by the Deer Tick which is a nasty, tiny tick that is barely visible when blood engorged. Common symptoms are fever and joint pain that lead to crippling arthritis. It is more common in the Atlantic states but is creeping into our area.
2. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: This is absolutely not a disease confined to the Rockies! Carried by the American Dog Tick, this is probably the most common tick borne disease in this area. Symptoms include anemia, nausea, fever, depression, diziness, seizures, joint pain, pneumonia, and blindness.
3. Tick Paralysis: A neurotoxin in the tick's saliva causes a rapidly progressing paralysis that can lead to respiratory paralysis and death. Again, our friend, the American Dog Tick is the culprit.
4. Ehrlichiosis: This is more common in the southern tier but is creeping northward into our area. It causes enlarged lymph nodes, spleen, and liver, anemia, fever, lethargy, depression, joint pain and bruising.
All these diseases are fatal if not treated. If started early R.M.S.F., Ehrlichiosis, and Lyme disease are curable but may have permanent damaging effects to the body. Most dogs with Tick Paralysis will recover if the causative tick is removed. This is a problem with infested dogs as all ticks must be removed.
Ticks can be removed by using tweezers or gloved hands grasping the tick near the skin and apply even traction until the tick with a small tag of scale of skin releases. Thoroughly wash your hands because these diseases (except for Tick Paralysis) are communicable to humans! An infestation has to be handled professionally at a veterinary hospital.
Now repeat after me; PREVENTION, PREVENTION, PREVENTION!
There is an arsenal of effective tick preventions available and each year they're improving.
There are effective collars available (not that flea collar you see at the store), and some monthly topical applications. We recommend the topical Activyl Plus, available at our hospitals and our online pharmacy. This product may leave an oily patch on the hair for a few days but this a small inconvenience compared to what ticks do.
So again; Ticks, what are they good for; absolutely nothin', but they do spread devastating disease. Prevention is the key.
Dr. Jerry Miller graduated from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and has been serving Southern Ohio for his entire career.