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Keep Minnesota dogs safe from ticks this summer

Larva, nymph and adult stages of the American dog tick.
Larva, nymph and adult stages of the American dog tick.
TickEncounter Resource Center

It’s that time of year again when all of the creeping, crawling bugs come out of hiding. It’s also the time for pet custodians to take extra safety measures.

Ticks can be found throughout the United States. In Minnesota, they are dormant for about half of the year in the winter, but come spring time, brown dog ticks, blacklegged ticks (deer ticks) and American dog ticks (wood ticks) start latching on to whatever warm bodies it can grab, including dogs, cats, horses, cows, goats, people and more. They can carry and spread diseases such as tularemia, anaplasmosis, babesiosis and Lyme disease.

Though these diseases can cause open sores, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and stiff joints, it take a while for symptoms to manifest. By the time symptoms are noticed, small animals like dogs or cats can be quite sick. Treatment for can be costly and in some cases where treatment is delayed, pets could die.

Most incidences of tick-borne illnesses can be avoided. Here are several techniques for repelling ticks and preventing infections.

Vaccination – Not all animals have the same exposure, those on farms or in wooded areas may encounter more ticks. Additionally, hunting dogs are often right in the thick of the underbrush where ticks love to hide. Vaccinations for dogs who are chronically exposed are available to prevent for Lyme disease specifically.

Spot-On Treatments – These are a form of pesticide can be purchased from the vet and usually work for one month at a time. Spot-treatments are usually applied to the back of the neck and absorbed through the skin. They have to be reapplied each month and can work against both ticks and fleas.

Oral MedicationsTick prevention pills can be administered once per month. These medications can work to kill both ticks and immature fleas and will disrupt the life cycle of fleas. A benefit to oral medications is that it’s there is no need to worry about small children and cats coming into contact with an application site, as might occur with spot-on treatments.

Dips, Powders & Sprays – All three of these methods are applied slightly differently, but they’re all similar in that they aren’t meant to be rinsed off. Dips, powders and sprays generally kill ticks and fleas on contact. They can be inexpensive, though labor-intensive, and the process needs to be repeated every few weeks. Dips, powders and sprays are strong and should not be used on young animals. Follow instructions on the package very carefully.

Shampoos – Special shampoos that kill fleas and ticks should be rinsed off after application. Most shampoos kill on contact and once rinsed off, have a residual effect that can last from just a few days up to two weeks. Shampoo should be applied ahead of time before a trip outdoors and should be reapplied every few days to every weeks as necessary, depending on the shampoo directions.

Tick Collars – These plastic collars are made with pesticides that repels flea and ticks. Though they may work well for smaller dogs, large dogs may only receive protection for their head and neck; ticks and fleas may be found on other parts of the body. Again, read instructions on the package carefully.

Keep Dog(s) Indoors – Keep pets inside whenever possible; walk them on or near pavement or low-cut grass; prevent them from roaming in wooded or overgrown areas. Sure, they’ll need to go outside to do their business several times a day, but minimizing exposure can minimize tick encounters.

Inspection – After trips outdoors to places where ticks could be lurking, check dogs carefully for any unexpected passengers. Look between the toes, the insides of their legs, all along their bellies, inside their ears, and around the neck. For short haired dogs this inspection could be quick but its more time consuming for long haired or thick furred dogs. If a tick is found, the entire head and body of the tick should be removed immediately.

While any of these methods will work, the one that works best is the one that a pet custodian is most likely to carry out on a regular basis. If a pill is the most convenient, then that should be pursued. If a shampoo works better for an individual’s schedule, by all means proceed with the lather and rinse.

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