Warm weather brings out hungry ticks looking for a snack. Dogs are particularly prone to getting ticks because they are low to the ground and like to run through brush and grass. Ticks hang onto blades of grass with their back legs while holding their front legs out waiting for an animal to walk by. They can sense odors, body heat and even vibrations from nearby dogs. Once your dog gets close enough, the tick reaches out with its front legs and climbs aboard, ready to eat.
Once the tick gets to the dog, it cuts into the surface of the skin, secretes a little cement to attach itself to the skin and then pulls up a chair to begin feeding. The saliva of the tick contains an anesthetic numbing agent so your dog can’t feel the bite. The saliva also has an anticoagulant to prevent blood from clotting, making the blood meal easier to get. Within 24 hours of the tick bite, diseases like Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis can be spread to your dog.
Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacteria lives in the gut of the deer tick. It works its way up to the tick’s saliva and infects your dog when the tick’s saliva is injected into the skin. The Lyme bacteria reproduces in the skin initially and then quickly spreads to other areas like joints, kidneys and the nervous system.
Another common disease spread by ticks in Minnesota is Anaplasmosis, which is caused by a bacteria called Anaplasma phagocytophilium. Once the bacteria gets into your dog, it begins reproducing in the blood. In contrast to Lyme disease, which affects joints and muscle tissue, Anaplasma affects the blood. It causes damage to the white blood cells and platelets, which are needed for normal blood clotting. Anaplasma can sometimes cause nosebleeds and excessive bruising in addition to the signs we see with Lyme disease.
Signs of Tick Diseases
- Swollen Joints
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased activity level
What to do if You Think Your Dog has a Tick Disease
If you are concerned about your dog having exposure to ticks, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will check for a fever and perform a thorough physical exam to check for symptoms of tick diseases.
Both of the tick diseases that we see in Minnesota can be diagnosed with a quick blood test. Your veterinarian can run a test in about 15 minutes to determine if your dog has been exposed to Lyme or Anaplasma. Sometimes, additional testing is required to confirm that it is a tick disease. Your veterinarian may also recommend additional testing once your dog is feeling better to make sure the treatment was effective.
How Do I Keep my Dog Safe from Tick Diseases?
Talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s lifestyle and risk for tick diseases. A vaccine to protect against Lyme disease is available and should be given yearly to any dog that has tick exposure. There is currently not a vaccine available for the other tick disease, Anaplasma. The only way to prevent Anaplasma infections is to use a monthly tick prevention medication.
It is important to use extreme caution when choosing a tick prevention. Some tick prevention can be toxic to dogs, especially if your dog is older or has health issues. Also, cats are extremely sensitive to flea and tick medications, so always consult with your veterinary care team before using anything on your cat. Your veterinary team is the best resource for the most appropriate and safe tick prevention available.
At Northwest Animal Hospital in Plymouth, we recommend Vectra 3D prevention. It is a monthly medication that is waterproof and safe. We recommend Vectra because it repels and kills ticks. Many other tick prevention products require the tick to attach to your dog and take a blood meal before it kills them. The tick repellant in Vectra 3D can prevent ticks from hopping onto your pet in the first place.
For more information, click on the Vectra 3D link below or call Northwest Animal Hospital at 763-475-2448.