This year is reported as being particularly challenging for dogs picking up ticks. Just personally, I have several friends who, in spite of sensible efforts to prevent their dogs being affected, have had a terrible time with the wretched creatures.
I have recently spent 10 days in the north of Scotland, and was interested to see that the problem there was so bad that many places (Drummossie Muir, at the National Trust for Scotland’s visitor centre for Culloden Battlefield being a good example), there were big signs warning dog owners to check carefully for ticks.
Why are ticks such a worry for us? Why are they so bad this year?
We worry about ticks because we know that they can pass on some nasty diseases to our dogs and to us. In this country, Lyme disease is the biggest worry, although with dogs now travelling overseas, we are seeing “foreign” tick borne diseases despite the precautions in place to prevent this from happening. Babesiosis is an example. If you find a tick on your dog, and your dog is unwell afterwards, you should definitely see your vet and tell them about the tick. Taking a picture of the tick is a good idea, as then your vet will know the species and what disease it might have been carrying.
I don’t know that ticks ARE necessarily particularly bad this year, I wonder if we are a) much more aware of them and b) they are gaining resistance to the preventative chemicals that are available.
I choose not to use chemical prevention on my three dogs. There are a number of reasons for this, chiefly that if you read the data sheets supplied with the products, there are some very (to me) alarming statements such as:
“Consult your veterinary surgeon before using the product on sick and debilitated dogs” (yet I see dogs with all sorts of health conditions receiving these products regularly, in many cases monthly treatments)
“Dogs may show behaviour changes (agitation, restlessness, whining or rolling), gastro-intestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhoea, hypersalivation, diminished appetite) and neurological signs such as unsteady movement and twitching in dogs susceptible to the ingredient” (the products are neurotoxins, that’s how they work on the insects they are meant to affect)
“There may be an attachment of single ticks, or bites by single sand flies or mosquitoes. For this reason, a transmission of infectious diseases by these parasites cannot be completely excluded if conditions are unfavourable” (arguably defeating the object of using them?)
“Pets wearing the collar should not be allowed to sleep in the same bed as their owners, especially children” (so what about the poor dog wearing the collar 24/7)
(If you aren’t given the data sheet, you can read them all on line by searching for the product – it’s really worthwhile doing this!)
My preference is to do all that I can to ensure that my dogs’ immune systems are as robust as possible, and part of this is achieved by NOT subjecting them to chemicals unless this is completely unavoidable (serious illness would be an example where I would certainly use whatever I needed to to help my dog). My dogs are raw fed, and much of what they eat is organic. They are not vaccinated, rather I titre test them to ensure that their immune systems could respond if they were to be faced with a disease.
I do take action to minimise the risk of parasites, however, as the diseases that can be transmitted are nasty.
We had an interesting experience on our trip to Scotland. I had three dogs with me, Harry, Flossy and Tweazle. Harry has historically been a real tick magnet – he worked with sheep and I was forever removing ticks when he was working. Since he retired, his exposure has of course reduced, and I have learnt so much about improving his health. He had no ticks in Scotland (but travelled in his chariot, so again, his exposure was much less than the other two). Tweazle had two ticks on his face over the 10 days. Poor Flossy managed to pick up a record 8 ticks (and this is a tiny fraction of friends’ experiences).
I was puzzled by this, as all the dogs’ diet were the same, I brushed them all through every morning with a product containing Cedarwood oil and I sprayed them all with the same product if we were walking anywhere high-risk. Then I discovered that Flossy had lost her amber collar ! Hardly scientific evidence, but interesting, none the less. Amber collars have no alarming side effects.
What is a high risk area for ticks? Long damp grass and bracken are favourite haunts for ticks, they have quite a complicated life cycle and need to feed to move onto the next stage. Some only feed on certain species of animal, some aren’t so fussy ! This is a good website if you would like to know more. It makes sense to avoid such areas if at all possible (the beach was a good alternative for us!)
Removing them correctly is important, here are some pictures of removing one of Flossy’s ticks – I must have removed 100s of ticks from patients in my RVN role and my favourite tool for this is the O’Tom Tick Remover. Most vets will be able to sell you this simple tool.
To end on a more cheerful note, my most memorable tick experience was with a lovely man who came in to the vets to buy a tick remover one morning. He returned a short while later, saying he couldn’t manage to remove the tick himself, and please would I do so, his dog was screaming every time he tried. When he showed me the tick, it was, in fact, one of his dog’s nipples . . . Ouch !