Ticks are tiny, but they pose a serious health threat to your pet. These pesky parasites are common throughout Kansas, and they can transmit serious diseases to people and pets. Follow our Red Oak Animal Hospital team’s six tips to help protect your pet from these tiny terrors and the diseases they can transmit, and learn what to do if you find a tick attached to your pet.
#1: Diseases ticks transmit to pets
Ticks must consume a blood meal at each stage in their life cycle, and their most common meal targets include small wildlife, rodents, birds, deer, pets, and humans. Tick-borne diseases range in severity from mildly debilitating to life-threatening:
- Lyme disease — The blacklegged (i.e., deer) tick transmits Lyme disease, causing various signs that can take weeks or months to develop, most commonly manifesting two to five months after the bite. Only 5% to 10% of affected dogs exhibit Lyme disease signs, which most commonly include:
- Lameness that alternates among the legs
- Swollen joints
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Decreased appetite
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever — The Rickettsia rickettsii bacterium causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Dogs most commonly contract Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but cats can also contract the disease. Signs include fever, joint and abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and limb or facial swelling. Severe cases can lead to liver and kidney damage, heart abnormalities, pneumonia, and seizures.
- Ehrlichiosis — The brown dog tick transmits ehrlichiosis. Less than a month after a tick bite, a dog may show this disease’s signs, which can include diminished appetite, depression, bruising, and painful joints. No ehrlichiosis vaccine is available, and antibiotics are often prescribed to treat the disease.
#2: Protect your pet from parasites year-round
Ticks and other parasites are an ever-present threat to pet health, regardless of climate or season. Because of our mild climate here in Kansas, ticks often remain active during the winter months. These parasites lurk outdoors in wooded, grassy areas, soil, and sand, and can make their way indoors on clothing, accessories, and pets’ fur. Fortunately, you can ensure your pet stays healthy and parasite-free by giving your four-legged friend veterinarian-prescribed monthly parasite preventives, which are available as chewables, or you can apply a topical form to your pet’s skin. Year-round preventive medications provide long-lasting protection. However, if you forget to administer your pet’s monthly preventive once, they become vulnerable to disease. In addition to prescribing parasite preventives, our Red Oak Animal Hospital team will screen your pet annually for tick-borne diseases.
#3: Avoid walking your pet in areas that ticks populate
Ticks live in all parts of Kansas, thriving in warm, humid environments where tall grasses, trees, and shrubs grow. When walking your pet outdoors, avoid heavily wooded and grassy areas, and leafy debris. If you walk through wooded areas, avoid a trail’s perimeter, and stay in the center.
#4: Protect your pet from ticks in your yard
Help your pet safely enjoy their time in your yard by making the area less hospitable to ticks. To protect your pet from ticks that inhabit your yard, follow these landscaping tips:
- Treat your yard with pet-safe tick repellent.
- Clear tall grasses and brush from around your home and your lawn’s perimeter.
- Place a three-foot wide barrier of mulch, wood chips, or gravel between your lawn and wooded areas.
- Mow your lawn frequently, and rake dead leaves.
#5: Check your pet for ticks after spending time outdoors
To begin transmitting infection, a tick must remain attached to its host for at least 24 hours, which makes checking your pet for these parasites critical to preventing your furry pal from contracting an infectious disease. Most ticks have dark coloring and like to hide in areas where they blend in, so you have to look closely to find them in your pet’s fur, especially if your pet has a long, dark coat. After your pet has been outdoors, run your fingers slowly over their entire body, including their legs and tail, groin area, between their toes, on their eyelids, and under their collar. If you feel a bump on your pet’s skin, check for a burrowed tick.
#6: Promptly remove a tick that has attached to your pet
If you find a tick on your pet, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the parasite as close as possible to your pet’s skin. Then, slowly and steadily, pull the tick straight out, taking care to avoid twisting or jerking the parasite, because the mouthparts may break off and remain embedded in your pet’s skin. After removing the tick, clean the bite site with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Keep the tick in a sealed bag or a container with isopropyl alcohol, and note the date you found the parasite, so you can help your veterinarian diagnose your pet if they later show tick-borne illness signs. Monitor your pet for illness signs or allergic reactions that can occur days after the bite. Common tick-borne disease signs include
- Abnormal bruising or bleeding
- Joint pain
- Decreased appetite
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Ticks are common throughout Kansas, and these parasites can transmit serious diseases to people and pets. If you need help removing a tick, or your pet shows illness signs after you have removed an attached parasite, contact our Red Oak Animal Hospital team.