Monday, January 31, 2011

Tick Tick Scratch! Parasites and your Pooch

It’s never too soon to start thinking about the dreaded tick and flea season when your dog starts scratching and you may start to notice those itchy bites around your own ankles. Even heartworm is a concern for dogs, especially when traveling to areas like the Interior of British Columbia where heartworm is much more common.

Ticks are irritating arthropods that prey on dogs. When ticks are in need of a blood meal, they seek out prey by heat sensors. When a warm object passes by them, they attach to this object by clinging to clothing or hair. Dogs are one of the most common targets for ticks.

Once they’ve jumped on board, the tick migrates to an area that has little hair or does not prevent difficulty in feeding (the ears and skin around the ears or lips are common). While grasping the skin with their pincher-like mouth parts, the tick inserts its penetrating mouthpart into the skin and begins feeding. The mouthparts are cemented in place and will only dislodge when the tick has completed the meal. Once the meal is complete, the adult female will fall from the prey and seek shelter. The female lays eggs and the adult female dies and the cycle continues.

Ticks can transmit many different diseases to both humans and pets, including the much feared Lyme disease. Prompt and proper removal will significantly decrease the likelihood of infection. You can grasp them close to the skin with a sharp pair of tweezers and slowly and gently rotate and pull out the tick. Personally, I prefer to let my vet take care of this situation as it makes me very squeamish. I have on occasion had to step up and remove a tick from my dog, Casey, and I did it by first touching it with a red hot pin and when it pulled out of my dog I had it in my tweezer grasp and easily removed it.

Fleas are a constant source of aggravation as their egg laying cycle often goes uninterrupted because of mild, wet winters. A cold winter helps interrupt that cycle.

Many dogs are allergic to flea bites, or rather the saliva from the flea bite, and will chew themselves raw in their attempt to stop the itching. Preventative medicine is the key to control of all parasites.

My vet, Dr. John Clarke, at Granville Island Vet Clinic, has Casey on Interceptor from December to March to keep any chance of parasites like worms under control (remember, my dog is a poop eater). From April until November we use Sentinel to keep fleas under control as my dog is highly allergic to their bites and gets huge, itchy hives that make us all miserable!

Other products on the market include Advantage, Program and K9 Advantix which is a convenient, once-a-month preventative treatment for ticks, fleas, mosquitoes, biting flies and chewing lice for dogs. There are many products to consider, so talk with your vet about preventative care and what will be best for your pooch to keep him happy, healthy and parasite free.

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