More than 800 types of ticks are recognized worldwide but only a few North American ticks will actually bite your pet. The American dog tick, the brown dog tick, the black-legged tick (deer tick), and the Lone Star tick are the most likely culprits. In dogs, tick bites can transmit serious disease like Lyme disease, tick paralysis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis and more. Most of the ticks found on dogs and puppies simply call for safe removal and then carefully watching the wound for infection. But a tick that transfers disease may leave more than just a wound behind. Keeping your pet on vet recommended flea/tick prevention year round can help prevent the risk of these diseases.
When Does a Tick Bite?
Ticks are amazingly adaptable, which makes them extremely difficult to control. These spider relatives can remain dormant for months and a single female can lay thousands of eggs. That said, ticks can reside on many different animals and hosts throughout their lifetime. Ticks go through different stages of development, jumping, and developing amongst different types of hosts that they prefer before they become adults. Small rodents, raccoons, deer, and more can be hosts. Some stages of the tick are so small they can bite a human or pet without anyone ever knowing allowing them to transmit diseases undetected.
When an adult tick bites a puppy and begins feeding, its body swells like a leathery balloon. You can find its head buried beneath the puppy's skin. Often, ticks prefer the soft, supple skin of a dog's face and ears and can be found in nooks and crevices, making them hard for your pet to scratch off. But ticks can also be found all over your pet's body, so a thorough check after exposure is advisable.
Symptoms of Tick Bites on Puppies
It's easy to tell if a tick bites your puppy when you locate a balloon-like creature blood sucking your pet. But if the tick has already had its meal, or has fallen off beforehand, how do you know if your puppy was bitten? Sometimes you don't. Othertimes, a simple tick bite can show up as a minor skin irritation or an infection. Dogs can suffer blood loss from multiple bites and infestations, leading to anemia. And, in severe cases, your puppy could develop a tick-borne disease which can lead to more severe illness such as fever, low platelets, swollen lymph nodes, lameness, and perhaps renal failure.
Less common is tick paralysis caused by a neurotoxin contained in a tick's saliva. Symptoms of this disease are progressive in nature. They range from vomiting to unsteadiness to complete paralysis. If gone untreated, tick paralysis can move into a puppy's respiratory system, causing death.
Causes of Tick Bites
Ticks thrive in long grass or wooded habitats, so the lifestyle of your puppy determines its exposure. Does your pet enjoy an indoor-outdoor lifestyle, or is it confined to the apartment? If your dog roams the fields, romps through brushed areas or enjoys woodside walks on a leash, it's at risk for contracting ticks. Opportunistic ticks are in constant search for a warm body, making your pet, and it's hair, the perfect specimen to burrow into. And humid climates are more conducive to tick proliferation, making bites more prevalent in moist, coastal regions.
Just handling a tick can spread its disease, so if you see a tick, use gloves to avoid exposure to tick saliva. Blunt-nosed tweezers work great for removing embedded ticks from your puppy's skin. First, grasp the tick as close to the puppy's skin as possible and pull straight out, gently and slowly. Your goal is to remove the tick head along with the tick. If you pull the tick off, but the head remains buried, you will have to monitor the area closely for any signs of infection. If you note redness that seems to worsen or won't go away call your vet. Often the body will reject the foreign matter and form a scab. Be sure to place the tick in a substance that will kill it like rubbing alcohol (do not just throw away as they can crawl back out).
Treating Lyme Disease and Tick Paralysis
Depending on your pet's exposure, vaccine history, and symptoms, your veterinarian may perform an in-house screening test for tick-borne diseases or send a blood sample to the lab for testing. Pets that have been exposed to tick-borne disease won't necessarily need treatment, but your vet may want to run additional diagnostics like bloodwork to determine if treatment is needed. If clinical signs of illness suspicious for tick-borne disease are detected, they may want to treat. Some severe cases of tick-borne diseases can warrant hospitalization and aggressive treatment. As always, if you suspect your pet is sick or have seen a tick on it, contact your vet to discuss if it should be seen and be sure to get your pet on vet recommended tick/flea prevention.
How to Prevent Tick Bites
There are two main ways we can help prevent ticks from biting our pets. The first is to use a vet recommended flea and tick prevention on your dog year round. These medications if used appropriately will often kill ticks before they have time to transmit disease to your pet. Ask your veterinarian how best to protect your puppy, as age and health influence the type of product you should choose. And before using, always look at the label to make sure the product says it's safe for individual pets. Some products are not safe for certain ages of dogs.
The second way is by keeping your yard short and manicured and keeping your pet away from areas where ticks can be. Clearing away vegetation in your yard that gives rodents and other critters that can carry ticks places to hide can help. Cut your lawn short can also help as will keeping your pets away from problem areas. In areas with high tick burdens, treating the bug's habitat with pet safe chemicals also helps reduce the pest population. Inside your home, vacuum and wash puppy bedding regularly.
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