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Keep pets free of tick-borne illness

Original Publication Date: July 13, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

It is that time of year when your dog or cat can pick up ticks even on a short walk. That should not be surprising because there are more than 90 species of ticks in the U.S., and a single female can lay thousands of eggs.

Ticks are commonly thought of as insects, but they are actually arachnids and are related to spiders, scorpions and mites.

A tick attaches by inserting its mouth parts into a dog's skin and begins to suck blood. A meal can last several days and cause discomfort to your pet.

Ticks are very efficient carriers of diseases that can lead to more than irritation. Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis are commonly transmitted by ticks.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a well-recognized tick-borne disease among dogs and humans. The culprit is a rod-shaped rickettsialmicroorganism that resembles a bacterium. It behaves more like a virus and reproduces within the dog's cells.

An infected dog will probably develop a fever within five days and may appear frail and dehydrated. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be fatal, but with prompt veterinary care, a pet will likely survive without long-term consequences.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection carried by deer ticks. It can affect dogs, cats, humans and other mammals. Symptoms include depression, swelling of the lymph nodes, loss of appetite and fever. Lameness, swollen joints and renal failure can also occur. A veterinarian can determine a definite diagnosis. Early detection and treatment should lead to a good outcome.

Keep pets free of tick-borne illness Jump into Spring with your dog
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Ehrlichiosis is another tick-borne infectious disease. It first gained notice in the 1970s among military dogs returning from Vietnam. The brown dog tick commonly carries the rickettsial organism responsible for this illness. Early stages of the disease show few if any signs and may go unnoticed. The disease is well-advanced by the time anemia, bleeding episodes, lameness, eye problems, neurological problems and swollen limbs are recognized. Certain antibiotics are affective but require long-term use under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Try to avoid tick-borne illnesses by inspecting your pet daily for ticks. Use of a tick preventive recommended by your veterinarian is also helpful. An attached tick should be removed from your pet with a clean pair of tweezers. Gently grasp the tick close to your pet's skin and pull straight outward with a firm steady motion. Drop the tick into a small bottle of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol marked with the date. Your vet may want to identify or test the tick if your pet begins to show signs of a tick-borne disease.

Give your pup a treat for being good.

Tick prevention and vigilant daily inspections help keep your pet free of ticks. Don't hesitate to see your veterinarian at the first sign of a tick-borne illness to ensure proper care and a healthy outcome for your pet.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at