Tuesday, April 17, 2012
It's April and the weather is slowly warming. In fact, it never stayed very cold for an extended period of time this winter, so you dog owners know what that means. Here come the ticks, and this year there'll be an army of them.
Tick season: that time of year when bloated little arthropod vampires get warm and hungry and feast on cattle, wildlife, humans, and DOGS. But ticks aren't just disgusting, they're also dangerous.When ticks bite wild animals such as deer or squirrels, they take in the bacteria these animals may harbor and can pass them along to their next host. Some bacteria can cause diseases in dogs (and in people) - dangerous, debilitating, and sometimes even fatal diseases such as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
The problem is, it isn't easy to prevent those tiny, persistent and eerily aware critters from finding your dog. Ticks can sense trace gases, such as carbon dioxide, in the air, alerting them to the presence or approach of a warm-blooded mammal. Many ticks congregate in places where mammals tend to pass, such as in the bushes and trees along the edges of hiking trails, or even in tall grass or leaf piles in your own backyard. Ticks know where your dog is going. Creepy, right?
But don't be afraid. A two-pronged approach to tick management can keep your dog (and you) safe and, if not always completely tick-free, at least protected from the dangerous diseases ticks spread. Just follow this plan: prevention and prompt removal.
Precautions begin with keeping your dog well-groomed. Regular brushing, combing and bathing keep your dog's skin and coat strong and healthy. Ticks tend to prey on weak, dirty, sick animals with broken skin. A healthy, well-groomed dog is more attractive to us but less attractive to ticks, who prefer a dirty dog with a poor immune system for a host. To keep your dog's skin (and overall health) in even better shape, make sure s/he eats a balanced and high-quality diet, especially one containing esential fatty acids (EFA's) either in his/her food or as a supplement. EFA's help strengthen and improve skin and coat quality.
I recommend using a tick control product on your dog, though some people feel the treatments (particularly the popular spot-on variety) are too strong and potentially dangerous to your dog's health. In a later post I'll talk about natural repellents and remedies. But for the moment, let's just say that if you take your dog into woodsy areas often, a monthly spot-on product is a great choice. Ask your veterinarian about the best and safest tick prevention products, because he or she will consider your dog's health, age, size, and also the risk of ticks where you live.
Finally, keep your yard tick free. Keep woodpiles and brush piles far from the house and out of the fenced area where your dog plays. Keep your grass mowed short and trim the longer grass that grows along fences and around garden borders. If ticks don't have good, sheltered spots to hang out and await your dog's approach, they'll go somewhere more tick-friendly.
Prompt removal is essential because the longer a tick is attached to your dog, the greater the chances that it will transmit a disease. Most tick bites don't result in disease, but the chance that they could makes it important to remove the little blood suckers without delay.
Every time you go into tall grass, shrubs, or wooded areas with your dog, do a tick check as soon as you get home. Work through your dog's coat with a fine-toothed steel fleas comb or, if your dog has a short coat, just use your hands to look and feel all over for suspicious bumps and creepy-crawlies. Look carefully in the areas ticks like to frequent, such as behind or inside ears, around the rear end under the tail, or on the chest and belly where there is less hair and the skin is easy to puncture.
If your see a tick, use rubber gloves or a paper towel to protect your skin and remove it immediately. Drop in into a small cup of alcohol to kill it, then flush it down the toilet. If you think the tick has been attached for a day or more and you want to know if it might be carrying a disease, wrap it in a moist paper towel, put it in a small jar, and call your vet to see if s/he thinks you should have the tick tested.
Grasp the tick as close as possible to where its head is attached to your dog. Pull straight up, not to the side. The tick may come all the way out, or it may leave its mouth parts behind. Don't worry if it does. Pull out whatever you can, then swab the area with disinfectant and dab on some antiobiotic cream. Your dog's body will eventually push out the foreign parts, but keep an eye on the area. If it starts to look infected - red, swollen, filled with pus - give your veterinarian a call.
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