K9 Corner, April 11

By HELEN PALMER

Spring is barely here, but the various dog-related websites are already warning about tick bites. With our mild winter, the insect population will probably explode, so this is a good time to think about protecting ourselves and our pets from ticks which can carry diseases that both humans and dogs are susceptible to catching.

Then there are fleas which can cause itchy bite marks on humans, but also can inject tape worm larvae into dogs and cats. 

Finally we need to be alert for mosquitoes that carry heartworm microfilaria which they inject into their victim. 

Kentucky has a good population of all three of these insects but not every individual carries a pathogen that it can pass on to the victim. It is because of this gamble that we need to stay alert for the presence of these parasites and take precautions against their biting us or our pets.

Since ticks are the first to appear in the spring as tiny dots that jump on our legs as we pass a clump of grass or small shrub, we will cover them first. These little “dots” are called seed ticks, nymphs, or postembryonic ticks. They need fresh blood in order to grow. I remember hiking with my pet in the 1970s, fording streams and climbing rocky hills until one year the two of us returned to the car and I discovered these little seed ticks all over my jeans and my pet. Fortunately I had a slicker brush with me and I did the best I could brushing them off both of us, but I sprayed my clothing and the car when I got home. Ticks are difficult to eliminate once they have moved into a new territory. I never returned to that hiking trail.

Ticks can carry Lyme disease which can infect both humans and dogs. They can also carry the Rocky Mountain spotted fever organism, tularemia which can infect both rabbits and humans, and they are important reservoirs of rickettsial diseases.

If you find a tick attached and swollen with blood, do not try to pull it off. Usually the head is embedded in the skin and the head will remain embedded after the body is removed. I have had luck with swabbing the body of the tick with alcohol before gently working the head loose using forceps. I then place the entire tick in a container of rubbing alcohol which kills it. 

Diagnosing a tick-borne disease can be tricky.  Lyme disease mimics a number of disorders such as degenerative joint disease, trauma and autoimmune disease. If you notice lameness, poor appetite, lethargy or enlarged lymph nodes and you have been in an area where ticks are found, mention that fact when you take your dog to your veterinarian. There are tests for tick borne diseases.

If you find ticks on your property, check with your county extension agent for approved methods for eradicating them.