Don’t Get Ticked Off!
April signals the advent of tick season, which lasts until October. However, ticks are also active whenever it’s warmer than 4 degrees Celsius, so it’s important to be aware of the hazards they pose all year round. Here are some tips on what to be on the lookout for, how to prevent your pet from being a tick target, and what to do your pet is “bugged”
What are ticks?
Ticks are small bugs that feed on the blood of any warm-blooded animal. While their bites are not harmful, ticks can carry dangerous diseases that can be transmitted to their victims, such as Lyme disease. Ticks can’t fly or jump so require close contact with a host – going for a walk in tall grassy and wooded areas throughout Alberta can make your dog easy prey. Changes in temperature, light and even vibrations on the ground alert ticks to an approaching animal, and they grab onto fur and burrow in to reach skin. There, they latch on and fill up on blood. Ticks can then be transmitted to humans when they fall off your dog and crawl onto you instead!
(Gross) fact: ticks are smaller than sesame seeds when feeding and grow to the size of a small grape when full!
Deer ticks, in particular, can carry a bacteria called borrelia burgdorferi, which can lead to Lyme disease. While rare in Alberta, Lyme disease causes a wide range of symptoms in people and pets, ranging from rashes to more serious joint, muscle, heart or nerve infections that can lead to permanent complications or disability. However, it takes 36 to 48 hours for a feeding tick to transmit the bacteria, so it’s important to find and remove them as soon as possible!
Oddly enough, tick bites don’t typically itch, so detecting them involve… a bit of detective work. If you’ve taken your dogs through tall grass or in the woods, or let your cats roam outdoors, inspect them carefully by running your fingers through their fur “backwards” from their tails towards their heads, focusing on their ears, faces, armpits, bellies and paws. If your pet is unfortunate enough to have carried home some tick-y passengers, take a pair of tweezers to pinch the tick off right at the surface of your pet’s skin. Do NOT just pull on the body, as it will pop off the head, which will remain embedded in your pet. Instead, pull the entire tick off gently without twisting or jerking. And no matter how many times you hear it, do NOT use Vaseline or cigarettes (ouch!).
One of the best ways to guard you and your beloved pet from ticks and potential disease is medicine that can be easily prescribed by your vet. There are two types: pills that can work to kill ticks that latch onto your pet (for up to three months), and topical creams that both repel and kill these pesky bugs.
We hope this has provided some good tick-nical advice on ticks, but for more information, here are additional resources:
–Leann Soon and Dr. Richard Long, DVM
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