How to Protect Your Dog and Family from Tick-Borne Diseases
In North America, ticks are the most common vector for transmitting infectious diseases and second only to mosquitoes worldwide. Many tick-borne diseases are dangerous simply because they can be difficult to diagnose and are therefore allowed a longer period to ravage an organism. While these diseases can be frightening, they are also relatively simple to avoid with proper tick-bite prevention.
The wide variety of viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms spread by ticks are transmitted via tick saliva. Statistically, ticks that have been attached to a host less than 36 hours are unlikely to have transmitted a pathogen. However, ticks are nimble creatures and can easily attach to a host without being noticed.
By far, the most effective method for preventing tick-borne diseases is by avoiding those areas which harbor tick populations. Ticks are most likely to be found during the warm and somewhat humid times of the year (May-August for most locations). They are usually picked up in grassy areas, often on the edge of fields. However, they can be found in denser forests as well. Ticks usually attach to a host through what's called questing: climbing up a blade of grass, anchoring with back legs, front legs open wide and ready for attachment. Ticks sense an approaching host through vibrations, shadows, and changes in carbon dioxide (which we exhale). Destroying tick habitat required for questing keeping grasses short is one way prevent ticks from inhabiting an area.
What to Wear
If this isn't an option due to recreational or occupational commitments (construction, hunting, etc), there are still many ways to prevent tick attachment. Wear long sleeves and long pants, tucking pant legs into white socks. Wearing light-colored clothing can make ticks more noticeable when examining clothes for attached ticks. Repellants containing DEET or Permethrin can help mask odors which attract ticks as well as killing them upon exposure. (Note: High concentrations aren't necessarily more effective).
Protecting Your Pet
Since dogs don't usually wear clothing and don't know to avoid tick-prone areas, it's best to examine your pet after encountering these areas. Ticks often take their time to find the best location on an animal. If you check your pet's hair immediately after being in a tick-laden area, chances are the tick will not have settled in yet and can be removed with a tick brush. Dispose of ticks by drowning them in rubbing alcohol or high-proof liquor. If a tick has attached to your pet's skin, the can be removed with special tick tweezers by carefully and slowly pulling the tick out at a 90 degree angle to the skin. Grab the tick as close to the skin as possible to prevent the head from detaching from the body. If the head is left in your pet's skin, it will likely develop an infection if it isn't removed. The best way to remove a tick head is by taking a trip to the vet.
If your dog spends a lot of time rummaging through forests, tick collars containing an insecticide can be very helpful to protect against tick attachment. These collars are toxic, however, and should be carefully monitored when on your pet. If your pet becomes irritable or uncharacteristically lethargic, remove the collar immediately. Ticks are capable of transmitting a vast array of infectious diseases, but being aware of the risks and knowing how to avoid them can help to relieve your concern when you or your pet are walking through tick-infested areas.
Photo Credit: daveynin