Pet Corner (Dr Stever Surujbally)
Tick infestation on the ear
Throughout the year, it is possible to find ticks abounding on the ear flap (Pinna), and to a lesser degree in the ear canal (ticks do not wander deep into the ear canal). During the rainy season, one tends to find a greater infestation of the ear by ticks.
If there are only a few ticks on the ear flap or visible at the entrance of the ear canal, then I would advise that you remove them with tweezers (or even with your fingers). The tick’s jaws are often so embedded in the skin tissue, that when you try to remove the tick, the head breaks off and remains stuck in the skin. This could create a further inflammatory reaction and infection. For this reason I would advise that you stun the tick before physical removal. This can be done with acetone (fingernail polish remover). One can also carefully use a Q-tip which has been soaked in an insecticide. Please ensure that the insecticide does not fall into the ear canal. That could lead to another complication. Let the acetone or insecticide wet the tick for a minute or so, then grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and dislodge the tick by exerting a constant gentle pressure.
On the other hand, if the ear is just covered with ticks – as is often the case – there is no sense in trying to remove them individually. Such a condition demands drastic action. Spray the ear with a tickicide (the correct name for these tick killing chemicals is ‘acaricides’). Please always dilute the concentrated chemical according to specifications given by the pharmacist or the manufacturer. You may also wipe the ear with a cloth/sponge which is saturated with the appropriate chemical (eg Triatox, Supona, Sevin, etc). You may even wash the ear with an insecticidal soap (eg Asuntol). Leave the lather on for about 20 minutes before rinsing it off.
Whenever there is an intense tick infestation of the ear flap, the lesions on the skin itself can be extensive. The hair would have dropped off and there might even be a rawness of the tissue to the point where there is actual haemorrhage (bleeding). Under such conditions, the base for bacterial invasion would have been established.
I think it would be appropriate to mention some considerations when using these toxic chemicals – which they most certainly are. You must understand that ticks have been around for tens of millions of years. Some of their traditional hosts have become extinct, but ticks with their thick and durable external coating (‘Chitin Panzers’) have survived. This means that any chemical you might use to kill the obstinate tick must be strong, so strong that it can kill the dog – if ingested or absorbed through the skin in a high enough concentration.
Actually, pesticide labels must carry warnings especially relative to the specific animals on which the chemicals can be used, and under which circumstances the acaricides may or may not be used. For example, I always worry about prescribing an acaricide for a dog that has become anaemic because of the ticks drinking the dog’s blood. Further, ticks are known to transmit diseases. It is therefore difficult to subject a dog with a tick-borne disease to a toxic chemical. You see the dilemma we veterinarians (and the owners) have. On the one hand, you can’t allow the ticks to continue feeding (‘sucking’ blood) from the host, and on the other hand the weakened dog is more vulnerable to the pesticide.
I should also mention that each exposure of the dog to the chemical, no matter how brief or small, results in the pesticide being absorbed and perhaps stored in the host’s tissues. Repeated short exposures may eventually result in intoxication. Also, every precaution must be taken to minimize human exposure. This latter consideration necessitates the use of protective gear (rubber gloves, changes of clothing, respirators/masks, etc). Seek further advice from your vet about this matter.
Finally, read the label, and seek specific information relative to informing yourself not only about the possibility of the inadvertent poisoning of yourself during use of the chemical, but also about the antidotes which can be used. Since many (not all; some are chlorinated hydrocarbons) of the acaricides are organophoshates, the antidote is atropine. Just as important, you must educate yourself about the symptoms that exhibit themselves, if a toxic situation (dog and human) is emerging.
Well now I have truly scared you about the use of anti-tick chemicals in general and especially on the ear. However, with careful and judicious use, and after lengthy consultation with your vet, no problem should develop.
Enjoy your week.