By Annette M. Dixon, DVM
Even though we had a hard winter, the tick population has exploded this spring. These hungry ticks are looking for a blood meal. They are waiting to feed and spread disease. And tick diseases can be deadly. Tick diseases have been diagnosed in both humans and dogs in Pike County, Missouri.
The life cycle of a tick is made up of four stages, the egg, the six-legged larva, the eight-legged nymph and the adult. Ticks need to feed on blood from a host to be able to survive and mature into the next stage. Some ticks take several weeks to complete the life cycle while other types of ticks can take up to three years. Ticks can feed on birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
Ticks do not jump from the trees nor do they fly through the air. Ticks climb to the tips of plants, shrubs or grass and patiently wait for their next prey. When a tick senses an animal or person near, the tick waves it front pair of legs, hoping to catch a ride on its prey. Once on the animal or person, a tick may wander around for several hours before finding a place to attach.
When a tick finds a suitable location on its prey, it burrows its mouth piece into the skin. The mouth piece is often referred to the head, but this is not the case. The tick is secured into placed by spiny barbs on the mouthpiece. The tick will feed up to several days, fully engorging itself with blood. Once full the tick falls off and matures into the next stage. An adult female after feeding will produce tens of thousands eggs and then die. All of those eggs, tens of thousands, are just waiting to start the life cycle and find their next blood meal.
The most common ticks found in the United States are the American dog tick, the lone star tick, the deer tick and the brown dog tick. These ticks can transmit diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, Lyme Disease, Canine Anaplasmosis, Tick Paralysis, Tularemia, and Southern Tick-associated Rash Illness. These are diseases your pet can contract from a tick. Many of these diseases if not diagnosed early on can be deadly.
Tick diseases can be hard to diagnose. They do not necessarily have specific clinical signs. Clinical signs can be as mild as lethargy, depression and fever or as severe as swollen joints, vomiting, diarrhea, nose bleeds and kidney failure. Three ticks diseases can be screened by your veterinarian with a simple in-house blood test. The three diseases are Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis. The other tick diseases can be screened for by sending a blood sample to a laboratory. However the catch with most tick diseases is that a positive test does not definitely mean that is the cause of the illness. Tick diseases can be very elusive.
Tick diseases can respond to antibiotics. Tetracycline and doxycycline are typically used. If the disease is diagnosed early enough, a good to full recovery can be seen. A vaccine is available for Lyme Disease.
Prevention is the best way to avoid tick diseases. Keep your yard mowed and weed free. When walking your dog in woody areas, keep them on a leash and out of the brush and grass. Check your pets for tick frequently, especially after being outdoors. When removing a tick from your pet, grasp it with tweezers and pull it straight out. Dispose of the tick in the toilet, in rubbing alcohol or between a piece of tape. Use tick prevention products as directed on both you and your pets.
If you have any question about ticks or your pet’ health, please contact the Clarksville Veterinary Clinic in Clarksville, MO, at 573-242-3444 or Clarksville Grooming and Boarding at 573-560-3233.