How to protect dogs and other pets from ticks and Lyme disease

The best ways to limit the risks posed by an increasingly common parasite

An encounter with a dog might be a tick’s lucky day. To them, every pooch is a bloodhound. Unlike humans, who can pluck the pesky parasites from their own skin, a dog fresh from a walk in the park – even in Alberta, where reports of ticks are rising – is almost powerless to do anything other than cater to the little suckers, which latch on like every meal is their last.

Veterinary Medical Assistant chair Nichole Boutlier has advice on how to prevent that meal in the first place, along with the risk of potentially life-threatening diseases in dogs, cats and other pets.

The risk of ticks

ticks on dogBoutilier calls ticks “an emerging health risk” for both pets and people. One reason is that a variety known as deer, or blacklegged, ticks can transmit a bacteria that can cause Lyme disease, an often serious illness.

“We are seeing more cases of Lyme disease in pets than we have in the past,” she adds. Dogs, cats and horses are particularly susceptible, though Boutlier has seen ticks on cows and moose as well.

“Aside from Lyme disease, another important risk is ‘the ick factor’: If animals get an infestation, they can get anemic from blood loss. The [animal] rescues are seeing that now.”

Check your pet

A quick grooming after an outing should be enough to find any tagalongs. “You might not find them immediately after a walk,” says Boutilier. They tend not to attach immediately, so you’re more likely to find after they start feeding, when they grow larger “and appear almost like a lump or a cyst.”

Focus your search in the areas of the groin, where the hair is sparser, around the ears or on the face. “Dogs will sniff, and that’s when they’ll pick up those guests.”

Don’t spray to keep the ticks away

tick infestation on dogBoutlier doesn’t recommend spray-on repellents or collars because they don’t provide enough coverage. She prefers topical products that put off ticks and mosquitoes – such as Revolution, Advantix II and Bravecto. Most of these last three to four weeks with one application to the back of a dog’s neck.

Consult a veterinarian before use, says Boutlier, as cats are sensitive to some of these treatments as well as to animals who’ve had them. “My dog and my cat cuddle a lot,” she says.

How to deal with a tick

Remove it, including the head. “Use tweezers,” says Boutilier. “Grab close to the skin, twist and pull straight out.” There are “old wives’ tales” that Vaseline or turpentine will cause a tick to dislodge. It isn’t a reliable method, she says. “And it means we miss the opportunity to collect that tick.”

Boutlier doesn’t like that part (it’s part of the “ick factor”) but knows it’s necessary. Ticks should be sent to your vet or an Alberta government monitoring program for analysis.

“If the tick comes back positive for Lyme disease, check to see if the pet is showing any symptoms.” Those symptoms can vary, says Boutlier. “If your pet doesn’t seem itself, call your vet to book an exam.”

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