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Thousands of dogs are infected annually with dangerous tick-transmitted diseases - with the risk rising: Between 2006 and 2010, Veterinary Week reported a 30 percent increase in the rate of dogs exposed to tick-transmitted diseases.
Ticks are parasites that attach themselves to dogs, feed on blood and transmit diseases directly into the dog’s system. Major tick-borne diseases transmitted to dogs in the United States include:
• Lyme disease, which comes from the deer tick, can cause stiffness, lameness, swollen joints, loss of appetite, fever and fatigue. Your dog may not show signs of the disease until several months after infected.
• Canine Ehrlichiosis, found worldwide, is the most common and one of the most dangerous tick-borne disease organisms known to infect dogs. Caused by the brown dog tick, symptoms may not surface for months after transmission, and can include fever, loss of appetite, depression, weight loss, runny eyes and nose, nose bleeds and swollen limbs.
• Canine Anaplasmosis, also called dog fever or dog tick fever, is transmitted from the deer tick. Symptoms are similar to other tick diseases including fever, loss of appetite, stiff joints and lethargy, but also can include vomiting, diarrhea. In extreme cases, dogs may suffer seizures.
• Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever comes from the American dog tick, the wood tick and the lone star tick. Symptoms include fever, stiffness, neurological problems and skin lesions. Typically the illness lasts about two weeks, but serious cases could result in death.
• Canine Bartonellosis comes from the brown dog tick. Symptoms are intermittent lameness and fever. Left untreated, this disease can result in heart or liver disease.
• Canine Hepatozoonosis is thought to be transmitted by the brown dog tick and Gulf Coast ticks. Your dog can be infected if he eats one of these disease-carrying ticks. Symptoms are fever, runny eyes and nose, muscle pain and diarrhea with the presence of blood.
The key to curing tick-borne disease is early diagnosis and treatment. Several broad-spectrum antibiotics to treat tick-borne disease are generally effective, especially in the early stages of the disease. Since antibiotics don't differentiate "good" from "bad" bacteria, antibiotic treatment destroys beneficial bacteria, along with disease-causing organisms. You may therefore want to give your dog probiotics to avoid the development of gastrointestinal problems. Be sure to follow the treatment plan recommended by your veterinarian.
• The broad spectrum of possible symptoms associated with tick-borne diseases in dogs (including no symptoms) makes annual screening for tick disease a vital component of your pet’s annual veterinary exam. Tests are fast, with results while you wait.
• Numerous products and medications to prevent ticks on your dog are available both over the counter and from your veterinarian. Some veterinarians suggest a tick collar and and/or a preventative vaccination. No method offers 100 percent protection.
• Field dogs are especially vulnerable to tick-borne diseases because of time spent in tick-infested environments. Owners should therefore be diligent about applying topical or systemic tick-control treatments before outings.
• If the worst happens and you see scores of ticks crawling the walls inside your house, call a professional exterminator and move out for a while to let them work and allow the chemicals time to dissipate before you move back in.
• If you live in an environment with a high tick population, success has been reported with dry ice tick traps. Inexpensive and easy to construct, you need a Styrofoam-covered ice bucket or small cooler, a tool to punch holes in the Styrofoam, up to two pounds of dry ice, a piece of ply board or heavy cardboard, and masking tape. Begin by punching four tiny holes in the Styrofoam container to allow the carbon dioxide vapors from the dry ice to draw ticks. Place the container on the ply board or heavy cardboard. Place strips of masking tape to cover the board with the sticky side of the tape facing up. Add dry ice to the container, cover, and place the trap in a tick prone area. Ticks will begin moving toward the carbon dioxide emitting dry ice and become trapped on the masking tape.
• Check your dog for ticks daily during tick season: spring, summer and fall, or year-round in warmer climates. Brush your fingers through his fur, applying enough pressure to feel any small bumps. If you feel a bump, pull the fur apart to identify it. An embedded tick will vary in size, from a pinhead to a grape. Ticks are usually black or dark brown. Depending on the size and location of the tick, its legs may also be visible. Ticks need to be embedded for 24 to 48 hours to spread infections.
• If you find a tick, consider bringing your dog to a veterinary clinic where a veterinarian or technician can remove the tick safely and show you how it’s done. Removing embedded ticks is a delicate operation, because a piece might break off and remain in your dog’s skin if removal is done improperly. Ticks should be removed promptly to avoid infection.
Tick-borne disease can rebound rapidly if your dog's treatment only succeeded in suppressing, rather that killing ticks. Since recurring tick diseases are harder to control or eradicate, don't relax too soon if your dog recovers. A dog in recovery may appear to be doing well and eager to get back to everything you once did together, but that doesn't mean that his body is ready for it yet. When your dog has been sick, he needs time to recover and rebuild strength. To further protect your dog, remain vigilant with regular blood work to detect recurrences.
Finally, to make an informed decision about protecting your dog from tick-borne disease, talk to your veterinarian about the best tick-control approach for your dog.
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