High season for ticks
Unfortunately, spring is not all fun and games. From this point on, animals and their owners need to be back on their guard against ticks. This is because some of the breeds found in the area can transmit dangerous diseases.
Ticks are small but incredibly tough and they can sometimes be very dangerous. In Germany, the most common variety is the little “castor bean tick” (Ixodes ricinus). They constitute about 95% of the local tick population and affect both people and animals. Alongside these there are about 15 other kinds of ticks, most of which are only found regionally. The most common among these more unusual ticks is the “alluvial forest tick” (Dermacentor reticulatus), which is mainly found in Eastern Germany and in Baden-Württemberg. Tick-borne diseases The most dangerous bite comes from the 2-5 mm long castor bean tick. Not only is its bite painful, it can also have repercussions on your health as ticks often carry pathogens that cause diseases. FSME, the early summer meningoencephalitis virus, can lead to meningitis in cats. In humans it can result in a high fever and a strong headache, among other symptoms. Current research suggests that dogs are resistant to this virus and cases of illness are very rare.
Ticks also carry borreliose bacteria, which can infect cats, dogs and humans. The risk of being bitten is particularly high in dogs, explains Dr. Bianka Schulz, Senior Physician of Internal Medicine at the small animal medical clinic in Germany. Fortunately, the majority of cases turn out all right. “Dogs are infected by borrelia bacteria quite regularly and so they develop antibodies. The number of animals that actually become clinically ill is very low.” Even in cats, the outbreak of a disease is only seen very rarely. Cats and dogs that are affected develop pain in their joints, together with a fever and kidney problems. So for the sake of your pet, please don’t sidestep tick protection – it’s just not worth the risk.
Another infectious disease that can be spread to dogs via the castor bean tick is canine anaplasmosis. “This disease involves a pathogen that attacks the white blood cells”, says Dr. Bianka Schulz. Symptoms include a fever, general lethargy, loss of appetite, joint problems and lameness. Anaplasmosis used to be known as a travel sickness but these days it is occurring more frequently in Germany as well. According to Dr. Schulz, anaplasmosis behaves similarly to borreliosis. There is evidence of antibodies in a great number of dogs. In comparison, the number of animals who actually become ill is very low. She goes on to admit, “However, we are still not sure why some animals become ill from this disease and others don’t.” There are two other illnesses that used to be more common in southern countries but have also started appearing in Germany. They are ehrlichiosis and babesiosis. “Both ehrlichia and babesia are parasites in the blood, although in the chronic phase, ehrlichia can also attack the bone marrow”, explains Dr. Schulz. The symptoms of babesiosis include anaemia, weakness and pale gums. Signs of ehrlichiosis also manifest as fever, weakness and loss of appetite. In extreme cases, spontaneous bleeding can occur. However, the chance of your dog getting infected is still relatively low as the pathogen can only be spread through such uncommon ticks as “Dermacentor reticulatus” and “Ripicephalus sanguineus”. One particularly mean side to the story is that each tick can carry and transmit the pathogens for several diseases at once.
Don’t squeeze ticks!
Dr. Schulz warns that the longer a tick is in the body, the higher the risk of infection. So it is vital to remove the parasites as quickly as possible. “Get a pair of tick tweezers and carefully remove the tick in its entirety if possible. Do not squeeze the tick in the process otherwise you will basically end up pressing the pathogens into your dog or cat.”
Of course it would be better not to get bitten in the first place. To avoid infection from the outset, dog owners should carry out a regular prophylaxis treatment against ticks. There is a range of spot-on preparations, collars and sprays available that prevent ticks from latching on or that will actually kill them off before they can take a bite. Most of these products also contain active ingredients that protect against fleas. The illnesses that these bugs carry are not nearly that dangerous. However, the downside is that these little pests are in season twelve months of the year.
Call into your local store today to discuss your dogs’s personal needs with our Maxi Zoo Pet Experts