Ticks in Dogs

Finding ticks in dogs is a serious concern for any half-decent pet owner not because this means proper care isn’t being given, but rather because these dog ticks pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of your pet dog.

Ticks can be acquired outdoors, in grassy fields or forested areas where owners and dogs go off for walks and exercises. Ticks in dogs can also be acquired from kennels and dog houses located outdoors with other species preferring the comfort and security of human homes, waiting for the chance to attach themselves onto an unsuspecting host.

While there are more than 800 species of ticks in the world, not all of them would prey on dogs, some are common to cattle, fowl, rodents or even human based on their natural habitat. Allow me to identify the most common ticks found in dogs so that pet owners can be aware of the risk they pose, where they can commonly be found, and their appearance. This would help pet owners understand the nature of these blood sucking little critters and identify them before it is too late.

Brown Dog Tick

Wherever you are in the world, assuredly anyone with a dog would recognize the brown dog tick. The Rhipicephalus sanguineus or Brown Dog Tick is probably the most common ticks in dogs found worldwide. It got its name because of its color and because it has been known to favor dogs as its host through all the stages of its life cycle, from larvae to adulthood.

The Brown Dog Tick is part of the Ixodidae or hard tick family due to the hard shell covering the length of its body and head. Upon reaching adulthood, the male and female ticks are virtually indistinguishable in size and color, redish brown and 1/8 of an inch large. The true difference between the sexes are evident once the blood feeding begins wherein females begin to grow larger and change color, increasing in size to about half an inch long and a quarter of an inch wide, or basically 300% their original size. The male ticks on the other hand would remain almost the same size. This may be because the females require more nutrition in order to produce the thousands of eggs it is expected to lay after its last feeding cycle.

The brown dog tick is often found in areas of warm climates, so tropical and sub tropical countries have these ticks all-year round, while countries in cooler climes have to wait for spring and summer months before these pests make their appearance. Brown dog ticks can often be found in outdoors, in dog kennels or even inside houses where it would be warm and humid.

While brown dog ticks are not known to be directly dangerous to their hosts, these can cause skin irritation as shown by dogs who constantly scratch themselves although in significant numbers these can cause anemia due to blood loss. Brown dog ticks can also be carriers of diseases from other animals, especially if it has transferred hosts during each stage of its development.

American Dog Tick

Another commonly found ticks in dogs in the United States is the American Dog Tick or the Dermacentor variabilis. This nasty looking red, black and white colored parasite can often be found in grassy fields and meadows in the Eastern United States, questing for its host by raising itself on its hind legs, leaving with two legs upraised to attach itself to dogs passing by. In a large enough field and an active enough dog, hundreds of ticks can attach themselves to a single host.

The American dog tick initially feeds on small rodents such as mice for its larvae and nymphal stage but upon reaching adulthood, its taste for dog blood draws in to search for canine hosts. Fully engorged adult American dog ticks can grow up to half an inch long and are known to be carriers of Rocky Mountain Fever and paralysis.

Paralysis Tick

Probably one of the most dangerous ticks for dogs, the Ixodes Holocyclus or paralysis tick can be found in Australia and preys on other small mammals but have also been found to attach itself to dogs. Paralysis ticks are silver or gray in color and have their legs concentrated on the front of their bodies, they can be differentiated from the brown dog tick not only by its color but also by the length of its mouth which it uses to suck blood and inject a particular neurotoxin.

The danger posed by this type of tick is not attributed to the transmission of a particular disease or other organisms but rather because of the creature’s fluids which contains neurotoxins which it injects into the dogs which cause paralysis. The symptoms can appear 3-4 days after the tick injects in neurotoxins and this can be detected early on if the owner notices an unusual gait to the dog, making it seem like it has difficulty walking with its hind legs. After a while, the front legs seem wobbly, this would be followed by a noticeable change in its bark. After a while, choking or coughing sounds become constant due to the spread of the toxin to the throat. If left untreated, the neurotoxin can eventually travel to the chest area and cause organ failure and death.

The effect of the neurotoxin can vary depending on the size, age, level of activity and the number of ticks on the animal. These factors dictate whether it would take days or merely hours before any serious symptoms become visible. Once these symptoms occur, owners or handlers should immediately bring the dog to a veterinarian for appropriate treatment.

How to Look for Ticks on Dogs

Ticks favor particular locations where they’d attach themselves, these are usually in between the toes, within the ears, the top of the head, the middle of the neck and other places which dogs would be hard pressed to scratch or bite. Owners should regularly inspect their dogs in these areas to ensure that their companions are tick free.

Ticks are not merely a nuisance, they also represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of dogs. As such, all pet owners should regular check on their dogs, be vigilant of changes in the attitude or behavior of their pets, consider using medicines and collars to poison the ticks or keep them away, and always check with vets at the first sign of trouble. Following these guidelines, many dog lovers should be able to sleep better at night knowing that their canine companions are tick-free and healthy.