When Super Bird started showing symptoms of body discomfort and was panting excessively, her owners knew something was wrong. They took their 10-year-old terrier mix to see Dr. Bailey Pietsch, but the veterinarian did not immediately find any specific problems with her limbs or spine. The pup had a temperature of 104 degrees, though, so the next step Dr. Pietsch took to solve the mystery was checking Super Bird’s bloodwork.
Ticks produce a sticky substance to help them attach to an animal, she said. “They are ectoparasites: organisms that live on the outside of the animal and feed off of the animal’s blood.” Ticks don’t jump, and they don’t fall out of trees. “Ticks transfer to animals and people from long grasses or brushing against bushes.”
Once a tick has attached itself, it can take as few as four hours for disease to transmit. “A pet might limp on one leg and all of a sudden switch to a different leg, for example,” said Pietsch. “This is caused by the polyarthritis, or multiple joint inflammation, that many of these diseases cause. Pets might also have fevers, lethargy or decreased appetite. When a pet’s disease is not detected and treated, some tick illnesses can cause damage to the kidneys, liver and neurologic system.
“Unfortunately, they often don’t cause any discomfort while they’re attached, so you might not even notice one right away,” said Pietsch. “When they do attach themselves to a pet, removing them requires great care. You don’t want to just pull them off, because parts of the tick could be left inside the bite area. Veterinarians use special tools to remove ticks.”
Treating tickborne illness is relatively easy: The pet undergoes a long cycle of antibiotics. “We may also offer some anti-inflammatory medication or other types of supportive care,” said Pietsch. “What’s best, of course, is to address tickborne illness through prevention. We test dogs annually for tick diseases with a test that looks for heartworm, Lyme, ehrlichia and anaplasma.