I take great care to ensure that my dog, Musafir, is free of ticks and fleas. Every day he goes through a tick-check after his walk. His paws, tail and ears are scrutinised thoroughly to make sure he hasn’t picked up any bugs during his walk. I practise this consistently since I am aware of the dangers of diseases transmitted by ticks.
Ticks are the little, raisin-like parasites you find on your dog’s skin. They come in a variety of sizes, and males are often smaller than females. The pet parent in me worries because we have seen a lot of cases of tick fever recently. The phrase “tick fever” is used to refer to a variety of diseases caused by blood-borne parasites hosted by ticks; these include Babesia, Anaplasma and Ehrlichia. When your dog is bitten by an infected tick, these parasites enter their bloodstream.
The main consequence is a decrease in platelet count. As platelets aid in the production of blood clots, this makes bleeding more likely. Additionally, Ehrlichia lowers their white blood cell count, making them more vulnerable to other diseases. Babesia itself has a lot of sub-variants. It is also the most notorious of the hemoprotozoan parasites. I have seen dogs with babesiosis who developed jaundice after experiencing liver failure. Babesiosis can lead to neurological symptoms that could result in seizures. Tick fever is occasionally fatal.
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It must, therefore, be taken seriously. If you are aware that your dog has ticks, keep an eye out for symptoms over the next two weeks. Usually, fever, lethargy and loss of appetite are the first symptoms. Some dogs may have red bruises on their skin, blood in their pee or stools, or both. If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, take them right away to the vet so they can do the necessary diagnostics, such as a full blood count and a PCR test to identify the parasite. Depending on the type of parasite, the course of medicine can last for a month. Some dogs may even require hospitalisation. In severe cases, we have also had to perform blood transfusions.
Obviously, prevention is preferable. Making sure your dog doesn’t get bitten by ticks is the best way to protect it from any of these illnesses. Keep your dog away from plants and shrubs when out on a walk because this is where ticks typically thrive. Avoid areas where there are lots of dogs, such as dog parks. If your dog is buddies with other dogs, make sure they are all tick-free. Even better, use tick protection solutions regularly to keep them safe.
Always check with your vet to determine which products are right for your dog. For this would vary, depending on your dog’s age, coexisting diseases or adverse reactions. Sprays, powders, shampoos, collars, tablets and spot-ons to protect dogs are available. Each product has its advantages and disadvantages, as well as different methods of application. Your dog’s lifestyle and level of exposure to these ticks will determine what is best for them.
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If you start noticing ticks on your pet, you must understand that a tick population is breeding in your home. Ticks don’t breed as frequently on a dog as they do in the environment around them. So for every tick you find on your dog, you can assume there would be around 50 ticks in the house, possibly concealed in fissures and cracks. You must concurrently treat your dog and your home. A tick infestation in your home warrants tick- and flea-specific pest control while you use a tick-repellent product on your dog. Only if you do both can you end the infestation from your dog and your home.
Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai.