Oz: Warm weather is ideal for ticks
Ticks are one of the infectious agents active in the Okanagan Valley’s warm spring and summer, putting our pets at risk of contracting diseases.
Ticks attach to warm blooded beings, including humans, and suck their blood. In the action, ticks may transmit a few different of diseases to the host.
Two of the most common in our area are lyme disease and tick paralysis.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by a bacteria borrelia burgdorferi, and it’s transmitted by the common deer tick. Cats can get infected but are much less susceptible to the disease than dogs. But not all dogs that are exposed to the bacteria will actually get sick. If the body and the dog’s immune system is strong, it might fight the bacteria without developing the disease symptoms.
Clinical illness in dogs usually occurs two to five months after a tick bite. The most common symptoms are fever, swelling in the joints, lameness, enlarged lymph nodes, lethargy and loss of appetite.
It’s not common, but lyme disease can also lead to kidney failure. Some dogs may also develop heart problems or nervous system disease after being infected.
Dogs do not develop the skin rash, redness and rushes around the bite common in people.
The diagnosis of lyme disease is based on the clinical symptoms, a positive blood test and good response to treatment.
Dogs that were vaccinated or were exposed to the bacteria, but did not develop the disease, may show a positive result on the blood test.
Lyme disease is treated by a long course of antibiotics. Pain control medications are often required when the joints are affected by the disease.
The response to treatment should be fairly rapid. If an animal that is suspected of having lyme disease does not improve within 48 hours of starting antibiotics, it is best to assume that the problem is not lyme disease. Then, other diagnostic tests would need to be done.
Tick paralysis is the only tick-borne disease that is not caused by an infectious organism. The illness is caused by a toxin produced in the tick and transmitted through its saliva. This toxin affects the animal’s nerves.
Early signs may include change or loss of voice, vomiting or dilatation of the dog’s pupils.
The paralysis starts gradually, first with hind leg weakness and troubled coordination, then complete paralysis.
Eventually, the animal is unable to move its back or front legs, and has trouble stand, sitting or lifting its head. The respiratory system is compromised leading to laboured breathing and eventually respiratory failure.
The diagnosis of tick paralysis is difficult as specific laboratory diagnostic techniques are not available. The diagnosis is based on finding a tick on the pet along with the characteristic signs. Often the tick is not present any more.
Removal of all ticks usually results in obvious improvement within 24 hours. A failure to recover indicates that at least one tick may be still be attached, or that the diagnosis should be reviewed.
With both lyme disease and tick paralysis, prevention is the key. Tick control is probably the most important thing an owner can do to protect a cat or dog. There are a few recommended topical products for tick control. There is also a vaccine available against lyme disease.
Avoiding contracting these diseases is much easier then treating and recovering from them.
Please consult your veterinarian about more information on tick-borne diseases and tick control protocols.
Moshe Oz operates the Rose Valley
Veterinary Hospital in West Kelowna, 2476 Westlake Rd.