How to be the best dog parent to your pooch, you ask? By taking them on regular walks, the dogs say. Venturing out with your dog every day is fun and helps to develop a bond with them. But taking them for a stroll around the bushes they love to sniff and pee on can take them dangerously close to parasites that grasp onto them.
Tick fever is a growing threat to canine health worldwide. Ticks are spider-like small parasites with eight legs that grab onto the dog’s fur and crawl through their skin to feed on blood. They find a feeding spot, grasp the skin, cut the surface and then insert their feeding tube. The ticks then secrete a cement-like substance that keeps them glued to the feeding spot. They feed on the dogs for up to a few days and drop off once they’ve had enough. During this process, a small amount of saliva enters the host (dog).
Tick fever in dogs is on the rise among other tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease (a condition that causes fever and swollen lymph nodes & joints), babesiosis (an infection that destroys the red blood cells) and ehrlichiosis (a condition that infects pulmonary vessels). Dogs are very susceptible to these illnesses. However, different species of ticks can afflict mammals, birds, reptiles and humans. This small parasite stays on the tips of the grasses or shrubs and when brushed by a moving dog, it leaves the vegetation and hops onto the host.
What is tick fever?
Parasites like ticks can be a real nuisance for pet parents, as the ticks carry diseases that can make the dogs quite sick. Dr. Chethan Kumar, the chief veterinarian at Charlie Animal Rescue Centre (CARE) in Bangalore, says, “Tick fever is caused by certain species of bacteria or parasites (Babesia and Ehrlichia canis) that spread through the bite of an infected tick. It is a condition that is most common in dogs.”
He states that summer is the season when the ticks multiply in numbers. However, tick fever is on the rise in monsoon due to variations in the temperature and the rains are conducive environments for ticks. Changes in the weather can lower the immunity of dogs and make them vulnerable to infections.
“The bacteria in infected ticks spread through the red blood cells (RBC) in the host body and destroy the platelets in the blood,” says Dr Adeep Keshav, veterinary practitioner at Pet Connect, Sahakarnagar, Bangalore. He further adds that the drastic downfall in the platelets makes the dogs dull and lethargic.
Certain female ticks release a toxin while feeding, which causes a rare form of paralysis in dogs.
Symptoms of tick fever in dogs
Once bitten by an infected tick, it can take up to 14 days for the symptoms to kick in. The symptoms of tick fever vary from dog to dog. Some of the most common symptoms are listed below:
- High fever
- Loss of appetite
- Fatigue and dullness
- Abdominal pain
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Difficulty in breathing
- Swelling of face and limbs
In severe cases, tick fever can be fatal. There may be red (blood-stained) urine, diarrhea with the presence of blood, and oral bleeding in extreme scenarios, states Dr Keshav.
Diagnosing tick fever in dogs
“When diagnosing tick fever in dogs, we look for the symptoms and may recommend diagnostic testing such as blood tests [CBC to see the platelet count], blood smears, PCR tests, and urinalysis,” says Dr Kumar
Abnormal white blood cell counts, anemia, and low platelet count (below 1.5 lakhs) in the test results confirm tick fever. The other diagnostic tests are useful in detecting abnormal kidney and liver functions, low protein levels, and abnormal calcium and electrolyte levels.
Once the tick fever is diagnosed, antibiotics and supplements are suggested. Only in extreme severities, blood transfusion is required.
How to prevent your dogs from getting tick fever?
Talking about prevention, Dr Kumar says, “Regular grooming [brushing and trimming the extra fur for the dogs is a must. Trimming the fur completely is not usually required unless the ticks are cautiously removed. Medicated baths [using shampoos that effectively remove ticks] once a month are proven to be helpful.”
There are spot-ons that are available and can be used on dogs to prevent them from fleas and ticks. Spot-on is a single-use liquid medication in a pipette that is applied on the back of the dog (out of reach to lick). It is effective if applied directly on the skin. Spot-on prevents the dogs from catching parasites like ticks and fleas for a month, adds Dr Keshav.
Keerthan RP, shelter manager at CARE and an animal rescuer from Bangalore, stresses the importance of brushing the dogs with a tick comb and regular tick-checks after a walk. He says, washing the dog’s paws is not a must after every walk but checking the intra-digital space (between the paws) for ticks and wiping them with wet wipes is a useful tip for pet parents. Doing regular blood checkups can also be helpful, he adds.
Furthermore, Bravecto and Simparica are chewable tablets for protection against ticks that have long-lasting efficacy for up to 12 weeks.
How to remove ticks from your dog
The most effective way to do this is by using pointed tweezers to pull out the ticks. A tick removal tool can also be used by hooking and rotating it clockwise or anticlockwise to detach the ticks. Dr Keshav states “Never pull out the ticks with your fingers because it is unhygienic and if squeezed, it may inject infectious substances on the dog’s skin. Once the tick is carefully removed, clean the bite site with rubbing alcohol.”
- Tick fever in dogs is caused by a bite from an infected tick. Symptoms show up 15 days after the tick bite.
- Parasites like ticks hop onto dogs when they walk near the bushes or come in contact with another dog with ticks.
- Regular grooming has been proven effective in the prevention of ticks.