April to October is prime tick season. While your dog or cat can encounter ticks at any time of the year, the temperature and humidity leaves of a typical Irish spring, summer and early autumn are when they are most active. And that means pet owners need to be active against them to protect our dogs and cats from the diseases these nasty parasites carry.
While more than 9,000 kinds of ticks exist, Ireland is home to only a few. The main danger here is Ixodes Ricinus, aka the sheep tick or wood tick, a type of hard tick. (Ticks are classes as ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ by entomologists.) This tick has a three-stage life cycle, and it can attack your pet at any of the three stages. When they first hatch, the larvae will find and feed on a host for three to five days. Then they drop off that animal and moult into a nymph. The nymph will find a host and feed until it is ready to moult into an adult, and then the adult will also seek out a host.
Ticks in Ireland are most common in the very places our dogs enjoy most – woodland trails and fields. These parasites are drawn to warmth, and will hop onto your pet as they walk through tall grass or in wooded areas. They will find a spot on your dog where there isn’t much hair, but that doesn’t mean they will be easy to find. They like places that shelter them, such as between the toes or in folds of skin. And they are not very big. Fully engorged with your beloved pet’s blood, they can measure up to a centimetre at most. They typically live two or three years, but can survive up to six years.
The Dangers of Ticks
Not every single tick carries disease. But they can spread some extremely serious diseases, including Lyme disease. A simple tick bite is bad enough. It will cause itching and irritation, which can cause dogs to scratch and bite at the affected area and damage their skin. If a dog becomes infested with many ticks, particularly if it is a pup, it can develop anaemia.
Lyme disease is extremely serious. In dogs, it causes fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, stiffness, swollen joints and lameness that can come and go. Lyme Disease must be treated urgently or it can progress to cause life-threatening problems including kidney failure, cardiac and neurological complications. Two different blood tests can be used to detect Lyme Disease, although neither is 100% accurate. Prevention is the best strategy by far.
Ticks can also carry other diseases. Both very old and very young dogs can be particularly susceptible, as can dogs with any other health issues.
If You Find a Tick on Your Dog
When you take your dog out to walk in wooded areas, bogs or fields, it is important to check her for ticks afterwards. Look and feel along her legs, belly, ears and face, paying extra attention between her toes. Pet her all over her back and sides, her neck and head to ensure she is free of ticks.
If you have never found a tick before, do not try to remove it yourself. It is very easy to pull the body off, leaving the head in your dog’s skin. It is also easy to mistake warts, cysts or other growths for a tick and hurt your dog trying to pull them out. If you think you have found a tick, contact your vet so they can inspect it and show you the proper technique to remove it safely.
Protecting Your Dog from Ticks
Prevent is important. While you can remove ticks and treat tick-borne diseases, it is much better for your dog to never experience this parasite. The good news is that it is fairly easy to keep your dog safe. Veterinary medicine has evolved and we have great products to keep ticks off our pets. While flea and tick collars are still on the market, they have some downsides. The protection is strongest at the dog’s head. So it is less effective around their paws, where ticks are fond of hiding. You can get sprays for your pet and your home, although spraying your home is of very limited help as your dog is going to leave it for walks, which is where she’ll encounter ticks. Spot on treatments are relatively simple to apply, and offer good protection. You just apply them at a point on the back of your dog’s neck monthly. Talk to your vet about which product they recommend for your pets. Your vet knows your pets and your area, and can give the most specific advice.
Even if your dog is not fond of grooming, it is important to get into a good habit of a daily brushing if she is out in fields or wooded areas. A fine tooth comb is an excellent took for detecting fleas or ticks on your pet so you can remove them quickly. If your dog resists grooming or gets restless, a little bribery can go a long way. Try finishing up each season with a few Leader Train Me treats. Full of all-natural goodness, these low calorie treats can help you dog look forward to grooming time every day. And because they are healthy and low in calories, you don’t have to worry about giving them every day.