Springtime Walks, Hikes…Ticks
Taking your dog to the dog park is a great way for your four-legged friend to get time out of the house. It is also an ideal way for your dog to have some much-anticipated exercise as he or she romps and plays with other dogs. Socialization needs can also be met, particularly if you are lucky enough to find a great group of dogs and dog owners and have a chance for your pet to develop a cohort of other dogs to play with.
Unfortunately, there are also issues to consider when allowing your dog to interact with other dogs at the park. It would be nice to assume that all dog owners are going to be responsible and create a positive environment in the park, but this is not always the case.
Rarely is there any supervision or management at a dog park, particularly a public dog park maintained by the city or community. While this does allow a lot of freedom, it can also cause challenges in allowing your dog to socialize and integrate with other dogs at the park.
To help keep your pet safe and choose an ideal park, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
All Shots Up To Date
There are a lot of diseases that can easily be passed from dog to dog. Canine cough is a common issue as are other types of respiratory disease. While rarely serious, any respiratory infection is never pleasant for your pet.
In addition to shots like rabies, distemper, Bordetella, influenza, and Parvo, make sure your pet has any other vaccinations recommended in your area and by your vet.
A Clean Place
In a dog park, owners are responsible for picking up any dog feces. This is more than just good dog owner manners; it is also a way to prevent the spread of some diseases and parasites. If the park is not well-maintained, it is never a good idea to expose your dog to these types of conditions.
Responsible Pet Owners
Before going into the park, look at the socialization of the dogs already playing in the area. Are there any aggressive dogs? Are there dogs that are out of control and ignoring their owners?
If your dog is timid or shy, these types of park situations can be overwhelming, which can result in the dog becoming anxious and defensive, which can increase the risk of a fight or other problems.
Make sure your dog is well socialized and comfortable in the park and with the other dogs before removing the leash and letting him or her run and play. Stay with your dog in the park and provide supervision, calling your dog back if you spot any signs of potential problems developing.
Ticks, as an insect on their own, are not a threat to healthy dogs. These are small blood-sucking insects that burrow their heads just under the surface of the skin of a dog or other host and take a “blood meal”. However, the real problem with this type of ectoparasite (or exterior parasitic organism) is the fact they carry disease.
For dogs, there are several issues that are problematic. In some cases, particularly with feral dogs or very neglected dogs, the ticks feeding on the blood can cause anemia, a condition that can be fatal. Dogs can also develop a type of paralysis after a tick feeds. This paralysis is due to a reaction to the toxin the tick produces as it consumes the blood meal.
The above-mentioned issues are relatively rare in dogs, particularly well-cared for pets. However, even healthy dogs are at risk for the diseases ticks can carry. Different species of ticks will carry different diseases, some of which are localized in specific areas of the country and the world, while others are more generally found in any area where ticks are present.
A common condition that can be found in dogs and people after a tick bite is Lyme disease. This is carried by the very common deer tick. In some areas of the country and with some types of ticks, it is also possible for dogs to become infected with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever through bites from infected ticks.
Other health issues for dogs including Canine Babesiosis, Canine Bartonellosis, and Canine Hepatozoonosis. Often the symptoms that appear can be similar to those of other health issues and can be very difficult to identify. It may take weeks after the initial bite for the dog to become ill.
Walking Dogs and Tick Issues
Dogs can become hosts for ticks when walking through wooded areas, grassy areas, or going through brush and bush. Ticks will not drop off of trees onto dogs, people and other animals, but they can be found on grass and smaller bushes and shrubs. As dogs or other suitable hosts walk by, the ticks simply attach to the dog’s coat as he or she brushes against the vegetation.
Dog parks can be a particularly problematic as ticks can be brought in on dogs, drop off, and wait until another dog goes by to attach and feed. Between these blood meals ticks can survive for up to three years before their final meal and producing eggs.
Prevention and Removal
There are topical applications and systemic medications, including tick collars, which can be used to help prevent ticks from attaching to the coat of the dog. Additionally, only use dog parks and outdoor areas where the grass is kept short. Avoid parks where there are untamed shrubs or poorly maintained areas, as there is a higher risk of ticks being present.
Always check your dog for ticks after a walk. With long haired dogs or dogs with double coats, do a thorough investigation as ticks may not be immediately visible. Keep in mind; ticks can be very small if it is the first feeding. Never attempt to pull or twist out the tick and do not use any type of chemicals on the tick. If you live in an area where ticks are problematic, such as here in Maryland, ask your vet at your next visit to show you how to remove ticks in case you find one on your dog. They can show you how to use a tick removal tool to carefully remove all parts of the tick to prevent infection and reduce the risk of transmission of disease.