Ticks are small, grayish insects that usually live in fields and forests, particularly around burrows of wild rodents (e.g., moles, voles, mice). The Ixodes deer tick is a common vector for Lyme bacteria, the cause of Borreliosis or Lyme disease. Lyme disease is one of many diseases that ticks transmit.
Lyme disease bacterium, or Borrelia burgdorferi, hitches a ride inside the tick between hosts. In dogs, Lyme disease produces disease signs characterized by arthritis, though it can less commonly involve heart, nervous system and the kidneys. The skin around the bite, and the lymph nodes also become colonized. The arthritic joints may become swollen and hot, and there may be a fever associated with lethargic attitude and poor appetite. Lameness does not commonly last very long, but may recur in cycles. The glands (lymph nodes) of the dog may also be swollen.
It is important to note that Lyme disease is not found everywhere that ticks are found. Your local veterinary clinic will be able to advise you whether this infection is a concern in your geographic area.
Prevention of a tick infestation is the best way to avoid problems with these bloodthirsty parasites. Use of regular (daily) inspection of the skin and hair combined with thorough grooming, and use of repellent products in conjunction with avoidance of the environments that ticks favour are known effective strategies. There are vaccines to help protect dogs against infection with Lyme bacteria. Treatment for Lyme disease requires antibiotics. Other therapy and nursing care may be needed.
Ticks don't like to give up their grip easily, but the hardest part is finding them! (particularly in long, thick-coated dog breeds). The basic principle is always the same—remove as much of the tick as is possible. If the head is left behind in the skin, it is less desirable since remnants may produce a bit of an irritation reaction.
The old approach toward removal relied on application of a burn, or an irritant such as alcohol to help the tick loosen the mouthpart grip. Then the tick was grabbed directly at the skin surface with forceps and removed with a quick pull. Recent recommendations are to just spread the hairs, and without doing anything to bother the tick, gently grasp the tick right at the dog's skin surface, and gently but firmly apply traction at right angles to the skin to remove as much of the tick as possible. Wash the small dent left behind in the skin with soap and water. Use gloves during removal because the Lyme bacterium can cause illness in humans, and if your area is one in which the disease is found, ticks may be infected. Note that the infected ticks do not differ in appearance from uninfected ticks.
If a tick is removed from your pet, your veterinarian can help with identification of tick species, and tests can be performed to see if the dog has been infected with the bacteria