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Ticks are found in nearly all parts of the country and are especially prevalent in spring and fall. Ticks are vectors for several diseases in dogs, including:

  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Canine ehrlichiosis
  • Canine babesiosis
  • Canine hepatozoonosis
  • Lyme disease

In the case of Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, these diseases can also spread to humans and cats. And ticks can carry different forms of ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, and hepatozoonosis that can affect humans and other animals.

The saliva of ticks can also produce an allergic hypersensitivity reaction and, in the case of the female wood tick, lone star tick, and Gulf Coast tick, a disease called tick paralysis. The most common ticks, such as the dog tick, have males about the size of a match head and females that expand to the size of a pea after a blood meal. Deer ticks are much smaller -- about the size of a pinhead.

Ticks do not run and jump as fleas do, but scuttle around slowly. They climb up grass and plants and hold their legs up to sense passing hosts. When a warm-blooded animal walks by, the adult tick crawls onto them and begins feeding.

Ticks can fasten to any part of the dog’s skin, but are commonly found around the ears, between the toes, and sometimes in the armpits. A severely infested dog may have hundreds of ticks all over her body. The ticks insert their mouths, attach to their prey, and engorge themselves with a blood meal. During feeding, tick saliva can get into the host’s body and blood stream; this is how diseases are transmitted.

Males and females mate on the skin of the dog, after which the female takes a blood meal and then drops off to lay her eggs. This usually occurs 5 to 20 hours after the dog acquires the ticks. Thus, prompt removal of ticks is an effective method of preventing tick-borne diseases.

Ticks may drop off a dog and transfer to people, although this is not common. Once a tick starts feeding on a dog, it will feed until it is engorged and will not seek a second host.

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Dr. Jones is an Atlanta-based veterinarian who founded the Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital of Atlanta in 2005…More

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