Here’s what pet owners should know about protecting pets from ticks. The prevalence of ticks in our area has increased dramatically due to the early heat and humidity. But you already knew that thanks to the numerous ticks you’ve been removing from your dog. The boom of the tick population increases the chance of tick-borne illness in dogs and cats. Protecting your pets with effective and safe preventive measures is essential year-round.
The risk your pet will contract a tick-borne disease increases when preventive measures are not taken. The costs and time associated with veterinary care after a diagnosis are significantly greater than just the cost of preventives. Now is the time to discuss the right preventive treatments for your pet.
WHY PROTECTING PETS FROM TICKS IS IMPORTANT
Ticks are ectoparasites, which means they live their entire lifecycle on the outside of the host. Various species of this tiny blood-sucking creature are found year-round throughout the U.S. Although ticks are more common in wooded and overgrown areas, a slight breeze or animals such as deer can carry them far and wide. Ticks can be found on dogs and cats that spend most of their time indoors too. It’s easy for a tick to land on a human for a ride inside the house.
There are over 25 species of ticks in Pennsylvania, but the most common include:
- American dog tick
- The black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, can transmit Lyme disease
- The lone star tick, and
- The groundhog tick
“Ticks are tricky to identify. In Pennsylvania, residents can submit ticks to the local Penn State extension office for free identification–preserve the tick in alcohol in a small vial or jar,” said Dr. Laura Weis of Doylestown Veterinary Hospital & Holiday House Pet Resort.
Infected ticks can transmit diseases from one host to another which means dogs, cats, and people are susceptible. The bacteria are transferred from an infected tick to the pet through its bite. Although these common tick-borne illnesses differ slightly, the range of symptoms and types of prevention and treatment are similar.
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the world. Bucks County, PA is in a Lyme endemic area. Diagnosis requires a review of your pet’s medical history, specific antibody testing through a blood sample, a complete blood chemistry profile and urinalysis, and possible testing of the fluid from affected joints.
“Lyme disease is endemic in many parts of the country. In our area, approximately 80% of the unvaccinated dogs we see are positive for Lyme disease. While no vaccine is 100% effective, vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease in areas in which it is prevalent is essential,” said Dr. Weis.
Like Lyme disease, anaplasmosis is a serious and potentially deadly disease also carried by the deer tick and the western black-legged tick.
Often, dogs can be diagnosed with multiple infections like Lyme disease and anaplasmosis. The disease is not diagnosed easily, and usually requires a complete analysis of blood and urine. In some cases, special testing for antibodies or anaplasmosis DNA in the bloodstream is necessary.
Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial infection transmitted by infected brown dog ticks and lone star ticks. There are multiple forms of infection with different symptoms and levels of severity. A pet may have the disease for several years before reaching an often-fatal chronic phase. The forms of Ehrlichia affecting dogs include:
- An infection of the white blood cells can affect bone marrow function and the production of blood cells
- An infection of blood cells causing joint pain and lameness
A diagnosis is difficult to make; it requires extensive lab work. Dogs with Ehrlichiosis can often have other tick-borne illnesses further complicating a diagnosis. There are acute, subclinical, and chronic stages to this disease, each of which can present differently.
Rocky Mountain Spotted-Fever
This disease is the result of adult ticks carrying rickettsia parasites. It was first discovered at the beginning of the 20th century in the Rocky Mountain area but is found across the U.S. today. Much like Lyme disease and Ehrlichiosis, the illness occurs in several phases of increasing symptoms and severity.
The symptoms for each illness are very similar with slight variations depending on the specific disease or stage. Symptoms can be present within the first two weeks of the bite but could take several months to manifest. Mild to severe symptoms include:
- Lethargy and depression
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Joint pain and lameness
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the legs
- Abnormal bleeding and severe bruising of the skin and gums
- Sudden nosebleeds
- Possible neurological problems including seizures
- Kidney and liver disease are present in chronic cases
- Bloody urine
- Inflammation of the heart muscle can result in death
PREVENTION & TREATMENT
The best treatment for these common, tick-borne illnesses is prevention. Medical treatment can take weeks or months, and a full recovery is not guaranteed. Antibiotics treat all four diseases with varying degrees of success, and improvement of symptoms is usually seen within a few days. However, especially with Lyme disease, ongoing joint pain may require long-term pain management.
“Most tick prevention and elimination strategies focus on the use of pesticides, either in the environment or on a pet. While sometimes these chemicals are a necessary compromise in tick-infested areas, a multi-layered approach to tick control can help to reduce reliance on harsh pesticides,” added Dr. Weis.
For protecting pets from ticks, prevention should include:
- Inspecting your dog’s or cat’s coat for ticks each night, especially if you’ve been in a wooded area or walking through high grasses and brush. Comb through the dog’s coat with a small-toothed comb.
- Using natural or conventional preventive treatments. Forms of preventives include chemicals that either repellent or kill ticks on contact with the pet’s skin. These treatments come in oral, spot-on, or collar forms. Natural forms use repellent herbs and essential oils.
- Reducing tick exposure by creating a mulch barrier or setting fence lines from wooded areas, keeping grasses short, and eliminating brush piles.
- Consulting with your veterinarian to make sure your pet is current on all core vaccines and discussing vaccination against Lyme disease.
Parasites—like ticks—can easily invade unprotected pets, and possibly make them very ill. Talk to your veterinarian about the best method protecting your pets from ticks