If you think about life in the tropics, maybe you picture warm balmy breezes, a rain shower or two, and gently swinging in a hammock under a palm tree, your dog snoozing peacefully nearby. No taking the dog outside in freezing weather for “last call.” No bundling up to brave a chilly walk. And no frozen toes.
And you would be right. Here in Belize, we do enjoy those balmy breezes, hammocks and rain showers. Lots of rain. They don’t call it the rainforest for nothing.
All that warmth and humidity grows things. Big things, little things ... parasite-type things. I think the biggest battle a dog’s person fights in the tropics is parasites, specifically fleas and ticks. Recall that there is no deep freeze to kill them off in winter. It is a year-round battle and despite my best efforts, sometimes the ticks win.
Recently, we had just such a week. Agatha, the first tropical storm of the season hammered Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras. Somewhat north, Belize escaped the high winds but received heavy downpours daily, including more than 2 inches overnight. A boon for frogs, certainly, but the ticks also appeared, like I’ve never seen them before. Big ones, small ones, flat ones and fat ones. “Pepper ticks” so tiny and numerous they might be mistaken for something you’d sprinkle on your baked potato. And let’s not forget the aerial assault; that’s right, we have ticks raining from trees and overhanging vegetation.
After more than 20 years in Belize, I am no stranger to ticks, either on my person or my dog. So how do I deal with them? Well, I groom Maggie every day, top to bottom. I peer into her ears, lift her tail, separate her toes. I feel every millimeter of her furry little body for any tick-like bumps. I keep a tweezers, scissors and alcohol at hand. Usually, I find them before they have really attached when they are easily removed and drowned in alcohol.
Of course, prevention is an even better idea and I try, I really do, to take the green route. Maggie has a bandana scented with rose geranium reputed to be a tick repellent. She wears it when she goes outside, otherwise I store it in a jar to retain the tick-repelling properties and spare her sensitive nose from inhaling it constantly. I recharge it every so often with another drop of rose geranium. When the ticks get really bad, I spray her with a few drops of rose geranium and lavender dissolved in a bit of glycerin and 8 ounces of water.
And when that doesn’t work, I bring out the big guns: Frontline. Keeping in mind most flea and tick products are developed for the North American market and frequently not effective against the ferocious tropical species. Frontline seems to be the most effective of the bunch, in Belize anyway, although I’ve heard that the ticks have developed resistance to it here.
Last week was beyond awful though. Despite Frontline, scented bandanas and diligent examinations, ticks the size of black beans shinnied up my dog, attached and stayed hidden. These “stealth” ticks fed until swollen to bursting, then dropped to the floor in a small explosion of blood. Maggie looks like she’s been shot—blood spatters when she shakes her head or trickles down her snow-white fur. She stares at me big-eyed: Do something, Mom!
In desperation, I emailed Maggie’s vet who is three hours away on bad roads. I knew ticks injected an anticoagulant—so maybe I was overreacting to all that blood—but I wanted to grouse about my Tick Hell and ask for tips on how to staunch the bleeding. I’d even tried a styptic pen, such as men use for shaving nicks, to stem the flow. Dr. Sheila cut right to the chase: Blood that won’t clot is a symptom of tick fever. She mailed me a course of antibiotics ... and another dose of Frontline.