Spring is typically a favorite time of the year, because it opens the door for a lot more outdoor activities. Unfortunately, it is also the worst time of the year due to human's least favorite blood sucking parasite: ticks! For the most part, ticks just suck blood and when they are done they fall off and spawn more ticks. But, about one out of every one hundred can carry some pretty serious diseases that can affect both human and pet health.
There are four stages in a tick's life cycle: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Ticks in three of the four life stages are capable of sucking blood from a host. When they are done they fall off and molt into the next stage unless they are an adult, then they fall off and lay eggs. What is amazing is that the life cycle can be completed in less than two months time. Ticks use heat sensors to know when a meal is close by. They tend to stay on the tip of the bottom of leaves, usually about knee-high or below. When we or our pets walk through the woods and brush past the low leaves, the ticks sense us and just hop right on. Ticks have pincers on each side of the mandible that they bury under the skin to hold on then begin sucking blood from the host. There are five main diseases that we see with ticks that can affect pet health. Most commonly seen is a disease called Ehrlichiosis which only affects dogs. This disease causes lethargy, depression, on-again and off-again fever, small bruises all over the skin, swollen glands, and possibly spontaneous bleeding. A bacteria is the causative agent with Ehrlichiosis which causes a drop in platelets. This leads to the bleeding and bruising potentially leading to death of the host.
The next disease veterinarian's see is Lyme's Disease, named for a small town in which it was found, Lyme, Conn. Lyme's Disease affects quite a few species including having devastating affects on human and pet health. The most common symptom is lameness with swollen joints that are warm to the touch. The dogs can have a fever and have lethargy because of the joint pain. Sometimes the bacteria that causes this disease can also affect the heart, nervous system and kidneys.
Whereas the top two diseases are found frequently in the eastern U. S. the third disease is not as common. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is much like Ehrlichiosis in that it can also cause bleeding with the small areas of bruising but this infection is much faster. Unlike Ehrlichiosis though, humans can also get this bacteria through tick bites. The fevers that go with this disease can be quite high, over 104. Even though this is generally rare to see this disease affecting pet health, veterinarians have cases walk into their office just about every season.
The final disease to affect pet heath, which is very rare, is Babesiosis. It is a parasite that once bitten lives in the red blood cells of dogs. It causes the cells to rupture and eventually leads to severe anemia. If untreated the dog could die from internal damage to the red blood cells. Most people notice lethargy and a general yellow appearance to the skin, eyes, and mouth of the dogs. This yellowing is actually a by-product of ruptured red blood cells called hemoglobin.
Overall, all four diseases are very treatable if caught early. Usually blood tests have to be done to determine what the causative agent is before treatment can start. There is also an interesting phenomenon which is still poorly understood with ticks. Tick Paralysis, can affect both human and pet health. It is caused by the saliva of the tick disrupting the electric signals of our nerves. The saliva leads to an ascending paralysis starting in the rear end. Removal of the tick is all that is needed to stop the paralysis but it may take a few days for full function to return. Consult your vet about different medications that can be used to prevent tick bites. There are many good products both veterinary sold and over the counter that can properly protect our pets. Never use dog tick products on cats because severe toxicity and death can likely occur. If you notice a tick on your pet use a pair of tweezers and grasp the tick by the head and pull it off the skin. If you have any additional questions consult your local veterinarian.
Gary Pearson is an accomplished niche website developer and author.
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