Four Steps to Prevent Tick Disease in Dogs


There are more ticks in more places than ever, and they continue to spread. Veterinary parasitologist Dr. Michael Dryden, of Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine-Manhattan, calls it a “tick explosion.” And the fallout is tick disease.

Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases are likely very under-diagnosed in dogs, Dryden says.

“It’s important to know if your dog might even have undetected tick disease,” says Dryden, who adds that he’s a big believer in testing for Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases (two types of Anaplasma and two types of Ehrlichia) using a blood test that simultaneously detects heartworm. Any veterinarian can offer this test, called the Snap 4Way Plus.

Symptoms of Lyme in dogs may be non-specific, broad and/or subtle, and can be either mistaken for other illnesses or go undetected, Dryden notes. When dogs feel generally ill, their owners may not notice. Dogs, after all, can’t tell us they’re sick.

Internal medicine specialist Dr. Carrie White, of Pearl City, HI, describes additional symptoms, such as lameness (often in one leg one day, and then curiously in a different leg a few days later). Dogs with Lyme may run a fever, have swollen lymph nodes, or very rarely develop Lyme nephritis, which can lead to kidney failure.

The best offense against tick disease turns out to be a good defense, based on these four steps:

1. Modify your dog’s environment. If you know there are ticks in the yard, discourage them by creating an unfavorable tick environment. Ticks don’t thrive on concrete. They have a particular affinity for bushes and low-hanging trees, so keep these plants away from your house. Perhaps most importantly, discourage wildlife, especially deer, from coming on your property.

However, it’s understood that many people simply like Bambi and other wildlife to visit and may spend a lot of money on landscaping. So, in the real world, complying with these suggestions may be challenging.

2. Conduct tick checks. Check your dog(s) for ticks daily. Tick disease isn’t immediately transmitted, and can take a full day or more to infect a dog. If you spot a tick, wear gloves to remove it. Using tweezers or a tick-removing tool (available online and at many pet stores), pull the pest straight out (without twisting). Save the tick so your veterinarian can identify it

Of course, since many dogs have long hair, relying on the human eye to detect ticks is hardly an exact science. Even when engorged with blood, some ticks are quite small and hard to see.

3. Use tick-repelling products. “Tick products purchased with veterinary input do a very nice job; some even deter the ticks from getting on the pet in the first place,” says Dr. Michael Paul, past president of the Companion Animal Parasite Council.

Examples include topical spot-on solutions Vectra 3D and EFFITIX, which may not allow a tick to attach in the first place, but if the tick does make it beyond the product barrier, it still faces doomsday. Both products also give terminal nervous breakdowns to fleas.

Bravecto is a new chewable product, using new technology, that provides an unpresidented 12 weeks of tick and flea protection, and kills the parasites fast.

NexGard is also a chewable, delivered monthly, that also uses new technology to kill ticks and fleas. A monthly spot-on, Frontline Plus, protects against ticks and fleas.

Over-the-counter tick collars offer, at best, “iffy” effectiveness. Exceptions are the Scalibor Protector Band, which provides up to six months’ of protection against ticks that carry Lyme and other tick-borne diseases (Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis). Another effective and safe product is the Preventic collar, which paralyzes tick mouthparts to prevent feeding, therefore making transmission of disease unlikely.

4. Vaccination. “Most human physicians are probably envious, as we can vaccinate our dogs against Lyme disease, which is a major problem (for both people and dogs) in many parts of the county,” says White. “And the region for Lyme continues to expand.

Truly, the best protection is to deal with your environment as you’re able, be vigilant about checking for ticks, use products suggested by your veterinarian and vaccinate.”

“By paying attention to tick disease, you’ll also provide a service to your own family,” says Paul. He agrees that we can do more to protect our pets (against ticks and tick disease) than we can to protect ourselves.

Dryden agrees. “The dog happens to be the sentinel animal for many tick diseases, most importantly Lyme,” he notes. “Dogs get exposed to more ticks and (have) a higher (tendency to contract Lyme disease) than people. If your dog has Lyme, family members are potentially being exposed, too.”

Should pet owners be more proactive about considering the Lyme vaccine if they live where the disease is prevalent? “Oh, you bet!” Dryden says.

©Steve Dale PetWorld, LLC; Tribune Content Agency