Massive hatch of ticks: how to protect your dogs
Warm weather on the coast and recent rains have resulted in a massive hatch of ticks.
Last weekend we had to admit a small dog that had suddenly become paralyzed. Its breathing was labored, and when we searched its body we found 10 ticks in various states of engorgement.
Fortunately nowadays reliable serums are available. Anti-tick serum is produced in laboratories where dogs are kept on which large numbers of ticks are constantly present. These donor dogs develop high concentrations of immune bodies in their blood which is removed regularly and the serum extracted, standardized and placed in vials.
This method of serum production is very expensive, so that where large quantities have to be used, as in the case of our weekend patient, the cost of treatment of a tick paralysis is very costly.
Owners taking their pets to the coast would be well advised to take steps to prevent ticks attaching themselves to the dog; Animals running freely through long grass or bush are most at risk.
The immature tick climbs to the end of a branch or piece of grass and attaches itself to the dog's head, neck or undersurface as it pushes its way through the undergrowth.
After attachment, the small tick buries its head into the skin and begins to feed on the animal's blood. The tick injects a substance as an anticoagulant into the subcutaneous tissues which, when absorbed by the host, produces toxic effects.
It takes at least four days from the time of attachment of a single tick before any ill effects are noticeable, but if more than one tick is present this time can be considerably shortened.
Ticks should, of course, be removed as soon as they are discovered. The best method is not by burning them with lighted cigarettes or dabbing them with kerosene or turpentine, but by simply grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible with eyebrow forceps or sharp pointed pliers. Another way is to slide an open pair of scissors beside the point of attachment, press downwards and slowly close the scissors.
Even if some of the tick's head remains in the skin it does not really matter. If one is dealing with a large tick that must have been on the dog a number of days, keep the dog under close watch, as there may be a con siderable amount of toxin still present in the tissues that will eventually be absorbed.
The first sign of toxicity is usually a swaying and weakness of the back legs, followed by inability to stand. The animal's breathing may become labored and it may begin dry-retching. Do not try to force the dog to swallow any liquids, as the muscles that control swallowing can be affected and the liquid may find its way into the dog's lungs.
Once it is obvious that the dog is becoming paralyzed it must be treated by a veterinary surgeon. Waiting to see if the symptoms will pass off after you have removed the tick could jeopardize the animal's chances of survival.
The most effective preventive measures are the use of an insecticidal wash or by giving anti-tick tablets.
If the dog is not likely to go into water there is an effective wash that must be renewed weekly. Where the dog is a swimmer, tablets should be given in the correct dose rate daily. Both preparations should be used with the guidance of your veterinarian.