As spring is finally once again with us, it is the time of year we begin to see one of our least favorite things, ticks.
Ticks actually over winter survive in decaying grass and leaves- that means once the temperatures rise above 38 degrees- they start looking for a meal- and they’re very hungry.
If you use seasonal flea/tick prevention you need to start much earlier than you think. Think end of February/beginning of March.
Ticks typically hang out up at the tips of grasses and shrubs and extend their legs waiting for a host to walk by. When a host brushes the grass the tick just transfers onto the available area and holds on. Once they find a suitable area (they can look for 10 minutes to two hours) they insert their feeding tube into the skin and secrete a cement like substance that keeps them firmly attached during their meal. The tick also secretes small amounts of its saliva which has anesthetic and anticoagulant properties – making it so the host does not feel the feeding and keeping the blood flowing.
Once female ticks are done feeding and fully engorged, they drop off into the environment and deposit an egg mass- these eggs number in the thousands- then she dies.
This is all gross enough, but the biggest problem with ticks feeding is the transmission of disease. Both people and animals are susceptible to many of the diseases that these parasites spread with their bites.
Most people are familiar with Lyme disease in our area. Each year, more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported in humans.
Other tick-borne diseases occurring in people include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, Powassan virus, and babesiosis. In dogs many of these same diseases are also important. We often see dogs diagnosed with Lyme disease and our area is starting to see increases in ehrlichiosis, anaplasma, and babesia.
Prevention of these diseases is by far and away the best way of dealing with them. The symptoms of many tick-borne diseases can be vague until the host becomes quite ill and even then they are good at mimicking other diseases making diagnosis difficult.
Using a flea/tick preventative on your dog and any cats that also go outdoors is one of the best ways to keep ticks off your pets. Make sure never to use any products labeled “dogs only” on your cats. There is an ingredient in some products made for dogs that can make cats very ill and they can even die.
There are topical and oral flea/tick products on the market right now. The topicals are nice because they will often kill the parasites without them taking a blood meal. If your pet is bathed or swims often the efficacy of these products will be reduced. The oral products are nice because they are not bathed off, but we must remember that the medication is in the pet. That means a bite has to occur for the product to kill the flea or tick. Most of the oral medications have studies showing that they prevent the transmission of disease from ticks before disease can be spread to the host.
It is still important to do a tick check on your pet (and yourself) when coming in from outdoors and remove any ticks that you find. There are tools available that make this very easy. You may have heard that you can burn off a tick with matches, use vaseline, or rubbing alcohol to remove a tick. Unfortunately, these methods hardly ever work and may actually harm your pet during removal. Sometimes you will see that there are still some parts of the tick attached to the skin after the body has been removed. This is ok as the pieces will fall off as the body heals and rejects them. Keep an eye on the area but don’t keep digging! We see areas that are much sorer from overzealous attempts at tick removal than from the tick bite itself.
If an area is not healing, if your pet is not feeling well, or if your dog is not vaccinated against Lyme disease it is best to give your veterinarian and call and set up an evaluation.