Ticks are one of nature's lethal weapons. Your dog can get sick from a tick bite, but primarily from an infected deer tick -- a much smaller insect than the larger brown dog tick. Tick-related illnesses can cause a variety of symptoms and be difficult to diagnose, so if you dog has been bitten there are several steps you should take.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can infect humans and animals. It is the most prevalent of the tick-borne illnesses. The tiny deer tick transmits the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, through its bite. Symptoms vary from dog to dog. The most common sign is lameness -- either intermittent or constant. Loss of appetite, lethargy and sometimes, fever are also found. The only way to diagnose Lyme is through a blood test performed by your vet. If the test is positive, the treatment is usually antibiotic therapy which has proven effective in curing symptoms.
Tick bites can cause other serious illnesses. The brown dog tick carries the bacteria Ehrlichia. It is most common in the southern United States but can be found elsewhere. Ehrlichiosis can lay dormant in your dog for weeks or even months, before making the dog sick very quickly. Fever, lethargy and appetite loss are common. See the vet if your dog exhibits symptoms after being bitten. Other, less common tick-borne illnesses include anaplasmosis, spread by the deer tick and brown dog tick, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, carried by the Lone Star tick, American dog tick and wood tick.
Prevention is Key
Chemical spot-on products and tick collars that kill ticks after they attach to the dog are available. Natural products can be sprayed on the dog's coat to act as preventatives. Treat the yard with animal-safe insecticides or food-grade diatomaceous earth to reduce the tick population. Check your dog daily by running your hands over his body, feeling for lumps or unusual bumps after he is outside to be sure he has not picked up a tick.
Safely Remove Ticks
A tick can transmit infection within 24 to 48 hours, so if you find a tick on your dog, remove it carefully as soon as possible. Swab the tick with rubbing alcohol first. Place the tweezers as close to your dog's skin as possible without pinching him to be sure you get the head. Gently but firmly pull the tick out. Drop the tick in a small container of alcohol to kill it. Watch the spot where your dog was bitten and contact your vet if it becomes irritated or swollen. Avoid handling the tick and wash your hands.