September Is Dog Tick Season
September marks the beginning of the wonderfully crisp and clear fall weather that so many of us enjoy for hiking, camping, and many other outdoor activities. However, September is also the peak season for pesky ticks. So, if you are going to be outside to enjoy the nice weather with your best friend, you need to remember one pet care duty: always check for ticks. These little critters have a way of burrowing deep into your dog's fur in an attempt to hide out and feed for as long as possible. Protect your pet by taking the time to do a thorough tick inspection every time you come back from the outdoors.
What you need to know about cat and dog ticks1
Ticks are gross—they are, essentially, blood-sucking parasites that feed off warm-blooded animals and they have a particular preference for dogs. So, it can be helpful to take a step back from the unpleasant aspects of a tick, and learn just a little about their biology. Knowing a little something about the organism and its feeding habits can also be helpful when you need to remove a tick from your pet.
Ticks are parasitic arachnids; this means they have eight legs and that they live on the blood and tissue of their host animal. They're found in wooded, grassy areas and hang out on the edges of leaves, twigs, and grasses, so that they can drop on a potential host as it passes nearby. They do not jump or fly. (Please note: deer trails and human hiking trails are favorite stalking grounds for common dog tick species.)
Once a tick lands on its potential host, it will try to travel to a warm, dark crevice to attach and feed—think armpits, ears, and belly folds. A tick attaches to its host via its mandibles (jaw) and inserts a feeding tube directly into the superficial capillaries of the host organism. Because they attach with their head and jaw, they tend to burrow slightly beneath the skin. This is why it is vitally important to make sure the tick head is removed with the tick body to prevent additional infection and discomfort.
The dangers of common North American deer and dog ticks
Aside from being a parasite, a tick has many other bad-news features for dogs. There are a number of dangerous tick-borne diseases that can cause serious illness and sometimes death for any kind of host, humans included. One of the big disease threats your dog may be susceptible to is Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria carried by the blacklegged or deer tick. The bacteria are transferred to the host during the bite and work their way through the host's system. Not all deer ticks carry the particular bacteria responsible for Lyme disease. However, if your dog has been bitten by ticks you should keep a close eye on your pet for symptoms of the disease. The disease manifests with the following initial symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
If you notice your dog has been exhibiting these signs, take him to the veterinarian immediately. The sooner your pet starts antibiotic treatment, the better his odds are of overcoming the disease with the least amount of complications.
Another dangerous tick disease that dog owners should pay particular attention to is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. This harmful disease is carried by the American dog tick and is a serious danger to dogs and humans alike. Keep a close eye on your dog after you have removed a tick from his body and watch out for the same symptoms associated with Lyme disease. Do not hesitate to get your sick pooch to the veterinarian if you suspect a tick-borne infection.
Checking your dog or cat for ticks
There is a similar protocol for checking both your cat and dog for ticks, but we all know cats can be a little more challenging when it comes to sitting through any kind of examination. So, to get started checking for cat ticks you may want to start by petting your cat to get her comfortable and relaxed. This way, she'll release her muscles and you can better manipulate her limbs to check in sensitive places, like armpits, where ticks love to hang out.
- Put on a pair of latex gloves. Humans are susceptible to infection from tick diseases, and taking this precaution helps protect you from illness.
- Feel for small bumps and ridges all over your pet's coat. Typically, you will first recognize a tick through touch. They are small, round, and smooth and most species have a hard exterior.
- Examine the crevices between skin folds, especially under the arms and legs of your pet. Ticks love a warm, dark place to hide out and are likely to be burrowed into these places on your pet's body. Also, don't forget the areas in and around their ears!
- Pull back the fur around a suspicious area to inspect. Depending on the length and thickness of your pet's fur, you may have to go to more trouble to part the hair so you can see your pet's skin underneath. Shorthaired dogs and cats are often the easiest pets to check.
Be thorough with your inspection. This may mean that you have to get out a fine-tooth comb and go over every inch of your pet's wiry and thick coat. It may be a bit of a chore, but it is certainly worth it—the longer a tick stays on a dog or cat only increases the risk for disease transmission and infection.
If you happen to find one on your pet, you should read a more detailed explanation of how to remove a tick properly.
- Dryden MW and Payne PA. Biology and control of ticks infesting dogs and cats in North America. Veterinary Therapeutics. 2004 Summer;5(2):139-154.