Many pet owners mistakenly believe ticks are only alive in summer. In reality, ticks stay active for almost the entire year. It is not until the weather is close to freezing that ticks go dormant. This means that ticks are alive well into fall and can easily latch onto your dog during your crisp autumn runs or hikes. Tick bites are certainly a nuisance, but the worst part about these tiny insects is their potential to carry Lyme disease, a scary illness that is all too common in dogs.
By taking a proactive approach to ticks and their bacterial illnesses, you can protect your pooch from contracting the disease and feeling its harmful effects.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. This illness is spread through a tick bite, from which it travels through the bloodstream of humans, dogs or other animals. Fortunately, Lyme disease is not contagious across species, so you can’t catch Lyme disease from your dog. However, you can get infected by the same tick as your dog if you don’t dispose of the tick properly.
One of the most common symptoms of Lyme disease is inflammation in the joints, which can severely limit your dog’s ability to walk. This inflammation may clear up after three to five days, but then return in the same or another leg soon after.
The following are the most common symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs:
- Lack of appetite
- Stiffness and discomfort
- Joint swelling
- Difficulty breathing
If left untreated, Lyme disease can progress and worsen your dog’s health. It commonly affects the kidneys, as well, and can even lead to failure. Make sure to watch for symptoms including vomiting, weight loss and intense thirst to spot the early signs of kidney failure and take your pooch to an emergency vet if you suspect its life is in danger.
To diagnose a dog with Lyme disease, you’ll need to bring your pup to the vet, where they will ask a series of questions and run tests to determine whether the disease is present. If the test returns positive, your vet will prescribe your dog an extended antibiotic treatment to get rid of the bacteria in the body. Usually, these treatments are effective; however, some dogs are not able to eradicate the disease entirely, and symptoms may reappear in the future.
Your vet may also recommend anti-inflammatory supplements or medications to help your dog manage its discomfort and swollen joints.
No ticks, no problem
Ticks are the root of most Lyme disease cases in dogs. These insects are extremely small and latch onto animals, feeding on their blood. Deer ticks are the most common offenders of Lyme disease transmission, although other types of ticks can be carriers, too.
The important thing to note about ticks is that they cannot fly. Instead, they sit at the stop of tall grass or bushes and wait for animals or people to pass by, so they can latch on for the ride. Once they are attached, ticks bite and bury their heads in the skin so they are difficult to remove.
With all this in mind, there are numerous things you can do to prevent ticks from getting on your precious pooch and potentially spreading diseases.
- Check for ticks immediately: As soon as you and your dog return home from a walk in the park or even playing in the backyard, do a thorough once-over for ticks. Make sure to pay close attention to the feet, in or on the ears, under the tail and near the anus.
- Keep your backyard well-kempt: If you spend a lot of time on the trails or at dog parks, you might not think that danger could be lurking close to home. However, long grasses in your backyard could also be hiding ticks. Keep the backyard trimmed and tidy so you don’t have to worry about Fido’s health at home.
- Stay on the trail: While on hikes, it can be tempting to allow your dog to run off and explore in the woods, especially when you’re alone. But letting your pooch run in all the weeds and grasses puts it at higher risk for getting ticks. Stay on the trail, especially in areas that have known tick infestations, to minimize your risk.
- Use insect repellent: There are specially-formulated bug sprays or wipes designed to keep ticks and other insects away from dogs. You should never use human insect repellents on dogs, so these are a great alternative.
If you do find a tick on your dog, make sure to remove it as soon as possible. Ticks usually need to be attached to dogs for around 48 hours before they can spread diseases, so the faster you act, the less likely it will be that your dog gets sick.