5 Questions with Dr. Halligan

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Q: I found a tick on my dog that had already attached itself. I was able to remove the tick but the place around the bite is red. Is this normal? What should I do to treat the bite? He is on flea/tick prevention but I guess it didn't work this time.

A: There are several hundred different species of ticks in the U.S., with the problematic species varying from region to region. The most commonly encountered tick is the brown dog tick. Ticks don't jump or fly. Rather, they position themselves on grass, shrubbery, or underbrush so they can hitch a ride with a passing victim, and then dig their heads in and start sucking their food of choice: blood. During feeding, ticks can swell up to more than 50 times their normal size and, like fleas, can cause a life-threatening anemia by bleeding their hosts dry. They can also transmit potentially fatal illnesses to your pet.

Ticks are most often found in and around the pet's ears, on the belly, or on the shoulders, but they can attach anywhere. A tick feeds by burying its head into the host's skin, leaving its body exposed. As it feeds, its body becomes engorged and swollen with blood. Although the body is pretty disgusting, the real danger is the tick's head, which is embedded in the skin. If you remove the tick improperly, you may end up leaving the head behind and putting your pet at risk for infection or abscess.

To prevent ticks from doing serious damage, they should be removed as soon as they are observed. Because contact with ticks can be risky for humans as their body fluids can transmit disease, it's best to wear gloves and use forceps or tweezers to remove them. Grab hold of the tick where the head is right near its body, as close to the skin as possible, and pull with one quick motion. Try not to jerk or twist as you pull. Place the tick in a jar with alcohol and cap it. If you suspect the tick to be a species that can carry disease, bring it with you to the vet hospital when you have your pet examined. Afterward, observe the tick to make sure the head is still attached and was removed with the body. If the head is still in your pet's skin, call your vet and bring your pet in for an inspection of the area. Either way, you should keep a close eye on the affected area for a few days to make sure the skin heals properly. It's normal for a small welt to appear in the skin where the tick was removed. Sometimes, patterns will develop around the tick bite that may alert you to a more serious disease transmitted by the tick bite; if this occurs, take your pet to the vet right away.

Tick Facts:

  • Ticks can transmit many deadly diseases to your pet and family, including Lyme disease, erlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
  • A female tick can produce up to 20,000 eggs. That's roughly 10 times as many as a flea.
  • There are more than 80 species of ticks in the U.S.
  • Ticks secrete a cement-like substance to help them stay attached to the host.
  • The longer a tick feeds, the greater the risk that it will infect its host with a disease. Removing a tick within 12 to 24 hours after it has begun feeding will reduce the chance of it passing on infectious disease.
  • A tick will drink up to 100 times its body weight in blood in one feeding.
  • In severe cases of tick infestation, pets can become seriously ill and even die from severe blood loss.
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