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Tiny But Treacherous | Fall 2011 Out Here Magazine

Protect your hunting dogs from a tick's dangerous bite

By Carol Davis
Photography by iStock

The thrill of the hunt can be sidelined with the bite of one tiny little tick, which may cause big health problems for your sporting dog.

Dogs — and humans, too — can become infected with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, and other tick-borne bacterial diseases.

Ticks tend to attach themselves to the ears, face, and abdomen of a dog because that's where skin is thinnest. But they can be anywhere on your dog, and can be hard to detect, so look thoroughly during tick checks.

Signs of tick-borne disease may not appear for 7-21 days or longer after a tick bite, so watch your dog closely for changes in behavior or appetite if you suspect that your pet has been bitten by a tick. If your dog shows symptoms, take him to a veterinarian.

Different types of ticks are found in different regions of the country. Tick-borne illnesses, as well, vary by tick type and region. These ticks are the ones most likely — depending on what region you live in, of course — to be found on your dog:

American dog tick — This common tick, found mostly east of the Rocky Mountains, is the primary transmitter of Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

American dog ticks are found primarily in uncultivated farm fields, weedy roadsides, and along woodsy paths. The adult tick waits on vegetation for a suitable host, such as a ground hog, opossum, dog, or human, to brush against it.

Most cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in dogs are reported between March and October, coinciding with the prevalence of ticks in the environment, according to the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.

Symptoms, which begin shortly after exposure, include fever; decreased appetite; lethargy; muscle and joint pain; and swollen lymph nodes, face, and limbs.

Though the disease is generally thought to last about two weeks, more recent evidence has shown that untreated Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be fatal to a dog, the veterinary college says.

Blacklegged, or deer, tick — The commonly-called deer tick, found primarily in the Northeast and upper Midwest, is the main transmitter of the infectious Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne disease.

They're generally found from May through the fall in woods or the fringe area between woods and border. These ticks linger on low-lying vegetation and shrubs, waiting for a host.

An infected dog may experience symptoms similar to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but the most common sign is sudden lameness caused by arthritis in several joints. Unlike immediate symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, signs of Lyme disease may take from two to five months to show.

Lone Star tick — This tick, found throughout the southeastern and south-central states, is capable, but not very likely, of transmitting Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The Lone Star tick is most active from April through the end of July and poses more of a threat to humans than dogs.

Brown dog tick — The brown dog tick, which occurs through most of the United States, is also known as the kennel tick because it is found primarily in kennels or homes where dogs are allowed inside, hiding under furniture, rugs, in cracks, and in draperies.

The brown dog tick can cause canine ehrlichiosis (symptoms include lameness and fever) and babesiosis (signs include fever, anorexia, and anemia).

Carol Davis is editor of Out Here.