The sun is shining and the air is warm. It’s a perfect moment for a wander through the forest with your four-legged friend and then down to the beach for a picnic.
It’s also likely to be tick season in the Netherlands and much of the rest of Europe. In fact, unless you’re out and about during December, January and February, you’re likely to encounter these nasty little bugs that feed off the blood of their hosts.
So why should you care about these tiny blood-sucking creatures and what can you do to protect your pets against them? Read on to find out.
How to Recognize a Tick
Ticks belong to the same class of species as spiders. They’ve been around for millions of years and are around 4 mm in length. There are several different types of tick but the one most commonly found on pets in the Netherlands is Ixodes Ricinus. It’s the one that transmits Lyme Disease.
Ticks are resilient, tough and hardy. They are parasitic on mammals like dogs and cats but can also affect birds, and reptiles too. They tend to be round and shiny, with a very small head and a large, flattened body.
They are typically grayish-blue, pink, brown or purple in color. When a tick first fixes itself to your pet it’ll probably look like the size of the head of a pin, but as it feeds it can grow as big as a small pea.
Ticks don’t fly or jump. They will crawl onto their host when there is any form of contact. For example, this could happen when a dog walks past a clump of grass or rubs against a bush.
Lyme Disease and its Symptoms
In the Netherlands, the most common infection that ticks can carry is Lyme Disease. It causes symptoms in 5 to 10 percent of infected dogs. That means some dogs might have it but never display symptoms.
Common Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs
When a tick infection leads to Lyme disease in dogs, the main symptoms include:
- Periodic lameness because of inflammation of the joints
- Fever and general feeling of lethargy
Sometimes the lameness will last just a few days but can come back days later in the same or different legs. One or more joints may be swollen, painful and warm to the touch. Lyme Disease can also cause:
- Depression, lack of appetite and sensitivity to touch
- Breathing problems and stiffness when walking
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Kidney damage in very serious cases along with vomiting and diarrhea
- Death if left for a prolonged period with no treatment
Ticks in Humans and Cats
Humans can get Lyme Disease from ticks, but experts do not see the infection as a concern for cats. However, because cats get ticks they could potentially bring them into the home and pass them and the diseases they carry on to their owners, their families and other pets.
It’s unlikely to happen, but a large number of ticks could potentially cause your cat to become anemic (having a low number of red blood cells). Ticks are always probably always going to be a cause of irritation.
Other Kinds of Ticks and Diseases
The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus tick) comes from Africa originally. We know that dogs traveling from Mediterranean areas can bring the tick into northern European countries like the Netherlands.
The tick can be a carrier of the dangerous Ehrlichia and Babesia blood parasites. Ehrlichia can cause a range of symptoms such as:
- Anemia and uncontrolled bleeding episodes
- Lameness, swollen limbs, eye and neurological problems
The ornate dog tick (Dermacentor reticulatus) once only lived in southern Europe. Now it’s beginning to take root in northern Europe including the Netherlands. In dogs, this tick can transmit the Babesia blood parasite. Many of the symptoms of the disease it can cause are similar to Lyme Disease along with seizures and jaundice.
The treatment for Lyme disease in dogs is typically a course of an antibiotic such as Doxycycline. It usually lasts for at least 4 weeks. Vets may also prescribe an anti-inflammatory.
Antibiotic treatments don’t always completely eliminate the infection. A future kidney infection is always a concern.
The treatment for Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis is typically similar. Dogs with chronic conditions may need to stay over at a veterinary hospital for specialist supportive care. That could include administering steroids or IV fluids, blood transfusions and nutritional monitoring.
The best course of action against ticks is to prevent them from attaching and spreading diseases in the first place. As a responsible dog owner, you should treat your dog regularly with a product that protects against all kinds of parasites.
There is a somewhat bewildering and confusing range of products for dogs out there. Holistic products may have their own appeal but what you need is a product that has evidence-based success in getting the job done.
We’ve done the hard work and research for you. No product, however, is going to be 100 percent effective. What matters more than anything is to follow all instructions carefully so that they are as effective as they possibly can be.
Here are some products that come highly recommended:
This comes in a chewable, tasty tablet form. It’s generally tastes good and is easy to administer. It’s a highly effective preventative that lasts for around 3 months. Bravecto also protects against fleas and mites.
This product also protects against fleas. Frontline protection lasts for around 1 month. It is a “spot-on” product, meaning you apply the liquid on your dog’s skin at the back of the neck.
The downside is that no matter how well you apply it, dogs can lick it or jump in water. The manufacturer claims, however, that they offer a waterproof formula.
This is another “spot-on” product that also lasts a month and protects against fleas and as well as ticks. K9 Advantix also claims to repel mosquitoes. Again, dogs are prone to licking it off and jumping into water but the manufacturer claims its K9 Advantix product is waterproof.
Scalibor is a collar that protects against ticks and sand-flies for up to 6 months. It also repels mosquitoes. It does not, however, offer protection against fleas.
Sand-fly protection is useful if you are planning to travel with your dog to a country where these creatures are prevalent, as they can carry some nasty diseases of their own. The collars are perhaps easier to administer than some other products, but can be a hassle if your dog already has a collar.
Checking Your Dog for Ticks
You should try to check your dog for ticks daily to prevent them from causing illness. It takes at least 20 hours after a tick has attached itself to your pet for an infection to take hold.
When you find a tick on your dog it’s always best to remove it straight away. This reduces the danger of it transmitting disease. It’s also important to remove the tick properly so none of it gets left behind on your dog’s body.
You should never extract a tick by crushing, pulling or squeezing it. That can cause some of the tick’s body parts to get left behind and it can in effect increase the possibility of disease transmission.
As with most delicate jobs, it’s best to have the right tools. Tweezers can work but can also cause issues if not used properly. There are plenty of low-priced, simple tick removers with hooks available that will do a far better job. Talk to your vet if you’re unsure about what to use.
How to Remove Ticks
- Slide your specialist tick-twisting tool under the tick. Get in as close to your dog’s skin as possible. Ensure you get hold of the tick firmly. Twist your tool 2 to 3 times in the same direction.
- Do this until you feel the tick loosening from your dog. It’s important not to pull it at this point. The tick will let go once you’ve twisted sufficiently.
- Gradually lift the tool away as you sense the tick loosen. If you’re using a specialist tool, the tick should stay on the hook.
- Dispose of the tick so that it doesn’t infect anyone else or other pets. Once you’ve removed the tick from your dog, clean the area where the tick had attached itself. Keep an eye on your dog for any signs of illness.
You should also try to avoid places that have gained a reputation for ticks to thrive:
- Check with dog organizations or groups about tick trouble spots near you
- Avoid walking your dog through long grass
- Try and keep to paths or open spaces
Finally, if you’re planning to visit a new area or are taking your pet away on holiday, be sure to do some research about how common ticks are where you’re heading to.
Speak to a Qualified and Experienced Vet Today
If you have concerns about any of the symptoms that may be the result of a tick infestation, it’s time to talk to a vet. You may also be unsure or worried about removing ticks yourself. Whatever the issue, we can help.
Get in touch with us now. We will always have an experienced vet available to offer you reassurance and advice. Find out more information about all our competitively priced pet insurance products too.