By Christie Long
Last week, I saw one of my favorite patients, an active older border collie.
During a routine exam, I flipped back the floppy part of her ear, known as the pinna, so that I could look down into the ear canal with my otoscope. The owner and I gasped in unison when we saw, at the same moment, an engorged tick the size of a kidney bean, chowing down on this sweet girl’s blood supply.
I don’t see a lot of ticks on my patients, and when I find one, I always ask the owner where they’ve been recently.
I am used to seeing ticks on dogs that have been into the forests in the mountains, but we don’t tend to have them at this elevation. Surprisingly, this dog’s owner reported that they had not left Larimer County. They live close to Boyd Lake and routinely hike around in that area.
Most of the time ticks do little more than kind of freak us out, as we might expect from any creature that attaches itself to our loved ones and sucks its blood. The amount of blood that a single tick can remove from a healthy adult dog is typically inconsequential to the dog, but extremely heavy infestations, especially in small dogs, can result in anemia.
It’s always a good idea to check your dog from nose to tip of tail after a hike for these hitchhikers. Ticks can typically be removed safely by grasping the body firmly, but without squeezing too hard, with tweezers, then pulling gently until it releases and the head comes out.
Like their friends the flea and the mosquito, ticks can carry diseases that can cause severe illnesses in pets and people. Lyme disease is a big public health concern in the East and the Midwest, but luckily Colorado is so far free of the tick that carries the disease. Surprisingly the tick that causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever does not live in Colorado either.
We do, however, have the Brown Dog Tick, which transmits a disease known as ehrlichiosis. There are several strains of this disease, but all of them tend to cause suppression of the production of red and white blood cells. Sometimes platelets are destroyed as well. The result is a lethargic dog, sometimes with a fever and enlarged lymph nodes, as well as painful joints.
Blood testing for erhlichiosis is readily available, but positive results don’t always indicate current infection with the disease, and the test may need to be repeated in about a month. Treatment is fairly straightforward, and response to antibiotics is usually rapid.
There are a number of effective tick repellant products on the market, including topical preparations that are applied every 30 days as well as tick repellant collars.
It’s important to note that not all tick repellents repel all kinds of ticks; and if you are traveling out of Colorado with your dog, you should consult with your veterinarian to ensure that your dog will be protected.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted adviser to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.