Now that the sun is shining and you’re spending more time outside, there is increased chance of your furry friend being bitten by a tick.
As an animal hospital clinic in Toronto, we commonly see cases of pets having been bitten by ticks while outdoors in the summer
There are many diseases and illnesses often spread by ticks and if your dog or cat suffers a tick bite, they will be at risk of contracting one of these conditions.
It’s incredibly important as a pet owner to pay special mind to skincare for cats and dogs, and ticks are a big part of that.
Let’s dive into what a tick is, how to spot if your pet has been bitten by a tick, and the possible consequences of a tick bite.
What Is A Tick?
The tick is a member of the Arachnida classification, so it’s closely related to spiders and other arachnids.
They’ve been around for at least 90 million years so you know they’re hardy little creatures.
Ticks are usually 3-5mm in length and are external parasites that survive by feeding on the blood of various animals.
There are two families of ticks known to spread diseases to humans, which are hard ticks (or Ixodidae) and soft ticks (or Argasidae).
Hard ticks may bite and not let go for days, but it can take only hours for diseases to make their way into the host’s system.
Soft ticks, on the other hand, transmit diseases much faster — within minutes.
The bite of a soft tick is also more intensely painful than that of a hard tick, which can often go unnoticed.
Most bites are by females as males usually die after mating, but ticks of all ages and both sexes need blood meals to progress to the next stage of their life cycle.
Some species of tick can survive for more than a year without feeding but they will die eventually if they don’t find a blood meal.
You’re more likely to find ticks in warm, humid areas, but they’re seen all across the world.
What Does A Tick Bite Look Like?
If you’re spending a lot of time in grassy or wooded areas, you should be mindful of checking yourself and your pet for ticks.
Hard tick bites are usually painless and you may bring a tick in from outdoors, so even if you have an indoor cat you should check all of your pets for potential tick bites.
Check your dogs and cats for ticks daily between the months of April and September by combing your fingers through their fur, searching for small bumps.
Investigate any bumps you may find and look for a black or dark brown dot, ranging from the size of a pinhead to a grape.
Sometimes, the legs of the tick are visible.
The tick bite may be accompanied by a rash, swelling, numbness, or an itching/burning sensation.
If you find a tick attached to your pet, remove it immediately — keep reading for instructions on how to remove a tick safely.
Dangers Of Ticks
These tricky pests are disease vectors, meaning they transmit several diseases to animals and humans.
Ticks carry microbes in their mouth secretions, which get into your blood upon being bitten.
Dogs and cats are especially at risk of these diseases because they can’t share with you if they’ve been bitten & it’s up to you to keep them safe from ticks.
If your pet spends a lot of time outdoors during the warmer months, they have a much higher chance of coming into contact with a tick.
However, you can also accidentally bring a tick indoors on your clothing or shoes, so indoor pets should also be checked.
Let’s look at some of the dangers of ticks to understand why proactive tick prevention is so important for pet owners.
Although rare, your dog or cat may develop anemia if they lose a large amount of blood from a tick bite, or series of tick bites.
Anemia means your body can’t create red blood cells fast enough, which can cause a lack of energy, dizziness, fainting, and weakness.
A disease we’ll discuss shortly called babesiosis may also cause hemolytic anemia, where red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be made.
2. Lyme Disease
The main disease most people associate with tick bites is Lyme disease because it is one of the most common tick-transmitted conditions.
Although Lyme only causes symptoms in around 10% of affected dogs, the symptoms can be extremely painful and even fatal.
Humans, dogs, cats, and other animals are at risk of contracting Lyme disease.
The primary symptom of this disease is recurrent lameness due to joint inflammation, which can further progress to the following signs and symptoms:
– Swollen joints and stiff walk
– Sensitivity to touch
– Fever and lack of appetite
– Swollen lymph nodes near tick bite
– Rare heart abnormalities
One of the most dangerous complications of Lyme disease is kidney failure, which may set in as your pet experiences vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and increased thirst and urination.
To diagnose Lyme disease, your veterinarian will conduct a series of tests (blood chemistry tests, a urinalysis, X-rays, and fecal examinations, to name a few).
There are various antibiotics prescribed to treat Lyme disease in dogs and cats, though Doxycycline is the most common.
Another extremely common disease spread by ticks is ehrlichiosis.
Ehrlichiosis is caused by the brown dog tick and is often undiagnosed for a long time because symptoms take months to surface.
– Loss of appetite and weight loss
– Runny eyes and nose
– Swollen limbs and joints
– Nose bleeds
– Low energy and depression
4. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
This next condition is caused by multiple species of tick: the American dog tick, the lone star tick, and the wood tick.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is a bacterial infection that can be deadly if not treated with antibiotics immediately.
RMSF usually lasts around two weeks, and symptoms include fever, general stiffness, skin lesions, and neurological issues.
Another name for anaplasmosis is dog fever, or dog tick fever, and it is spread by the deer tick.
In extreme cases of this disease, animals may suffer seizures.
Typical symptoms of anaplasmosis are similar to those of other tick-transmitted diseases and include fever, stiff joints, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
Digestion issues such as vomiting and diarrhea may also occur.
As mentioned earlier, babesiosis may cause anemia after being spread by a tick bite.
You can spot signs of babesiosis by inspecting your pet’s mouth, because it often causes pale gums as well as weakness and vomiting.
Caused by the brown dog tick, bartonellosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria in the Baratonella genus.
There are a minimum of 22 named species of bacteria in the Bartonella genus and they can cause a wide variety of illnesses including bartonellosis.
Common symptoms of bartonellosis include lameness and fever, and if this disease is left untreated it may result in heart or liver disease.
Unlike the other diseases on this list, hepatozoonosis is contracted through a much different method.
If your dog or cat decides to eat a disease-carrying tick (or does so accidentally), they are at risk of contracting this disease.
Hepatozoonosis causes fever, runny nose and eyes, bloody diarrhea, and muscle pain.
9. Tick Paralysis
Lastly, there is a rare form of animal paralysis that can be caused by a tick releasing a certain toxin.
Once the tick is removed, the paralysis is completely reversed — hence why it is so important to check your pet for ticks and get them removed as soon as possible.
The culprits known to cause tick paralysis are the Rocky Mountain wood tick and American dog tick.
After a female tick has fed for around a week, symptoms of this condition arise.
These symptoms include:
– Numbness and tingling, particularly in the limbs and face
– Weakness and fatigue
– Restlessness and muscle pain
As time passes, these symptoms worsen and progress to a lack of balance and eventually paralysis.
The paralysis caused by this toxin starts in the legs and travels upwards, often causing partial paralysis in one part of the body.
How To Remove A Tick From Your Dog Or Cat
Once you’ve located a tick feeding on your pet, the next step is to remove it as safely and quickly as possible.
In terms of tools, you’ll need a pair of disposable gloves and tweezers or forceps.
Using the tweezers, get as closely as you can to your pet’s skin and grab the tick by the head.
Pull confidently but gently away from your dog or cat’s body, and check to make sure you removed the entire tick.
Don’t assume the pest is dead upon removal — you may discard it and it could find its way back onto you or your pet’s skin.
Also, you will want to hold onto the tick in case any complications arise in the future.
You can put the tick into an air-tight jar with a cotton swab soaked in alcohol, and if there are any unfortunate consequences of the tick bite, it will be available for disease testing (and won’t be outdoors, ready to bite another).
After removal, keep an eye on your dog or cat and monitor their behaviour.
Is their temperature normal, and are they urinating/defecating as usual?
Fever, loss of appetite, stiffness, and joint pain are some of the first symptoms to show up in many tick-transmitted diseases.
Also, check on the bite area every day and look for rashes, redness, or any other signs of infection.
Contact Bickford Park Animal Hospital
It’s important to be knowledgeable about the potential diseases your pet is at risk of contracting from a tick bite.
Although it may be scary to read about these dangerous conditions, it’s best to be prepared and know the consequences of an encounter with a tick.
If you are proactive and engage in preventative tick treatment for your dog or cat, the chances of your beloved pet contracting one of these conditions will be drastically lowered.
If you have any questions about protecting your pet’s health, contact Bickford Park Animal Hospital.
We’ve been serving the Toronto area since 2012, and we would love to help you and your pet prepare for the peak of tick season.
At Bickford Park Animal Hospital, we know pets are family.
Reach out to our veterinary team and learn more about the services we provide for animals of all shapes and sizes.
Contact us at Bickford Park Animal Hospital today.