Anticipate a tickish summer ahead

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A recent article in The New York Times (“The Downside of a Balmy Winter? Long Walks With the Dog Aren’t Carefree”) cautions that while we are not going to experience a tick explosion this year, we need to be aware that the ticks are fully active now.  Balmy weather throughout the winter has kept our tick friends front and center instead of sending them shivering wherever it is they go.
Ticks, no doubt the South Carolina state parasite, are small arachnids, or spiders, that live on the blood of mammals, birds, occasionally reptiles, amphibians and certainly, your dog.
As they go through their life stages (larva, nymph, and adult), ticks usually change hosts. The seed or larval ticks will attach to small animals (mice, moles)  and be dispersed by them. Nymphs will climb up higher plants to latch onto larger hosts (possums, raccoons). Adult ticks can perch on plants for months waiting for a host to come by (that would be you and your Best Friend). Ticks may also seek out prey by detecting heat and carbon dioxide emanating from a potential host, dropping from bushes or trees.
On dogs, ticks tend to go for the warm, secluded areas like inner ears, under the collar or between the toes. Their harpoon-like mouth arrangement, a series of barbs that angle backward, anchors it in place while feeding. The barbs are why ticks are so difficult to remove once they take hold.
It takes five to six hours for a tick to become firmly attached and up to ten days for it to become fully engorged with blood. Primary tick offenders are often female, so once you find her, be sure to check around nearby for an opportunistic male or two. Adult female ticks can feed for several days or upwards onto a month because she needs a blood meal in order to lay her eggs. On the flip side, they have been known to survive for one year without a blood meal.
My first reaction, though it is much better than it was when I first arrived here, is usually an “Ugh!” The second being “Get it off right now!” The goal of removal is to kill the tick first so it will wither up and withdraw its probe-head from the skin. There is a risk of infection if the tick’s head is left under the skin as there would be a risk of infection if anything is left under any skin, let alone something with a face.
A swift and reliable removal practice, once demonstrated by my kindly VT veterinarian, is to dab the head end of the tick, not the head exactly because that is buried in your dog, but the shoulders of the tick, with a swab soaked in some kind of bug killer. My vet used Bio-Spot because that’s what she had handy. (I use GreenBug). Upon application the tick will wave its legs about frantically but then die obligingly, all within about three seconds. Using tweezers, grab Miss Creepy close to the skin and give a smart tug. It may surprise you how tightly these bugs have clamped on; they definitely mean business when they set up for a hot meal. Try not to grab the body of the tick, the now puffy part, as you want to minimize the risk of potential disease-carrying saliva back-flow into your dog. In this area, ticks can carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Recently, a couple of my local dog friends have contracted Rock Mountain Spotted fever from tick bites in spite of systemic preventatives. Should your dog exhibit symptoms of high fever, depression, lethargy, swelling of the eyes and swelling and pain in the limbs, visit your vet right away. Just to be safe, let’s all remember to give our Best Friends a close going-over everyday. They’ll appreciate the attention and it will give us a little peace of mind.