Understand the risks ticks carry, discover how to keep ticks off your dog, and learn how to remove a tick from a dog.
Understanding tick-borne diseases is a continuum. The distribution of tick species, their regional prevalence, and the infectious pathogens they carry, all fluctuate seasonally based on weather, rainfall and climate.
At the height of the spring or autumn tick season, bird dog owners should beware. The possibility of a tick bite causing severe or life-threatening illness warrants being tick-savvy.
“The challenge with tick-borne diseases is forecasting their regional prevalence and how common they may be,” says Jason Stull, VMD, PhD, DACVPM, assistant professor of preventive medicine at The Ohio State University, and presenter at the AKC Canine Health Foundation National Parent Club Canine Health Conference, held this past August in St. Louis.
Although there is no way of knowing the number of dogs infected annually by tick bites, tick-borne diseases certainly have become a growing threat. Hardworking bird dogs could be at high-exposure risk due to the spreading geographical distribution of ticks. Highly prevalent, tick-borne diseases currently are found in all 50 states.
“What’s more, tick-borne diseases are transmitted by zoonotic pathogens, meaning they can infect people, too,” Dr. Stull advises. “It’s crucial to protect two- and four-legged individuals alike during hunting trips, training sessions or field trials.”
But what attracts ticks to dogs in the first place? Emma N.I. Weeks, PhD, assistant research scientist at the University of Florida, is studying how brown dog ticks locate dogs to get a blood meal. The most widely distributed tick in the world, and the most common in the U.S., is the brown dog tick, It carries pathogens that cause debilitating diseases such as ehrlichiosis and babesiosis.
It appears these ticks are drawn to dog odor, a blend of volatile chemicals that dogs naturally produce. The study has shown that these chemicals vary by breed, and thus a breed’s attractiveness to brown dog ticks influences the tick’s biting rates and infestation.
Regardless of your dog breed, and tick species in the area in which you’re hunting or trialing, the best antidote to protect dogs against tick-borne diseases is to use tick preventives, practice head-to-tail body checks after being outdoors, and screen annually for infection.
Use Tick Preventives Year-Round
Tick preventives reduce the transmission of tick-borne diseases by repelling ticks that eventually die, or by killing ticks already attached to a dog. The type of product and how it is used varies by a dog’s exposure risk, safety, and frequency of swimming or bathing. Talk to your veterinarian to determine which product is best for your dog.
Although no product is 100-percent reliable, there are many good products on the market. Newer products include the eight-month flea and tick collar Soresto® and the three-month flea and tick pill Bravecto®. New monthly chewables include the tick preventive Simparica®, as well as the flea and tick preventive NexGard®, which focuses on the Lone Star tick, black legged tick, American dog tick, and brown dog tick. A vaccine for Lyme disease provides protection from this illness.
Regardless of the treatment you choose, tick prevention should be maintained year-round, especially while traveling. “Just because spring and summer are at the peak of tick season doesn’t mean there’s zero risk for ticks the rest of the year,” Dr. Stull cautions.
Take Time for Head-to-Tail Body Checks
Because tick-borne diseases can be transmitted in as little as three to six hours of a tick bite, it’s important to perform a head-to-tail body check on your dog immediately after spending time outdoors. If you find a tick, remove it by grasping it as close to the skin as possible with tweezers, then pulling up firmly.
Avoid squeezing or twisting to prevent the transfer of the tick’s bodily fluids. Kill the tick immediately by placing it in a container with rubbing alcohol. Apply a mild antiseptic to your dog’s wound.
Get Tested for an Infection
Consider having your dog screened annually for an infection. Blood testing detects the presence of an antibody, one product of the dog’s immune response against a pathogen, while polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing detects the DNA of the organism itself. Both are fast and effective, and could save you money down the road if a tick-borne disease isn’t caught in its early stages.
Luckily, advances are helping to keep dogs safe from tick-borne diseases. The AKC Canine Health Foundation continues its mission to learn more about the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of dogs affected by tick-borne diseases by starting its second year of the Tick-Borne Disease Initiative
The AKC matches gifts up to $250,000 to this cause. In fact, two new grants to support research on tick-borne diseases — including a study to develop best practices for preventing and controlling Lyme disease that is being led by Dr. Stull — just received funding as part of this initiative.
Tick season doesn’t have to be scary. Be tick-smart. Take preventive measures to help keep you and your bird dog out of harm’s way.