Ticks! Prevention is Key
Written by Andi Levesque, Veterinary Assistant
Spring has sprung and so have the ticks!!
Spring is a time when we venture out after a long winter, go for walks and just want to be outside. But wait, before we go out to enjoy the outdoors, let’s be safe. We have all heard of ticks, but what are these little creatures and what makes them a danger to our pets and to us?
Ticks are tiny bugs that feed on blood. Generally living in tall grass and wooded areas, ticks go through 4 stages in their life cycle and will need a blood meal at each stage. Their blood meal might come from biting wildlife, our pets or even people! How do the ticks find a host for their next meal? Ticks can sense heat, vibration and shadows and although they cannot fly or jump, they can climb onto a tall blade of grass and hitch a ride on the next animal, bird or human that walks by and brushes the grass. Once attached, the tick can burrow its head into the skin and feed on blood. When the tick is engorged with blood, the body of the tick will swell and take on a grayish appearance. Ticks need a blood meal for each stage of life.
Why are ticks so worrisome? When they bite, some ticks may transmit disease. There are a number of diseases that ticks may carry but one tick borne disease stands out – this is Lyme disease transmitted by the deer tick. In humans and dogs, Lyme disease is caused by a bite from an infected tick and can range from mild to severe. In dogs, Lyme disease may affect the joints or kidneys and may go unrecognized for a long time since the symptoms can be nonspecific. A dog may have sudden lameness that shifts from one leg to another, fever, or lack of appetite. If left untreated, Lyme disease may progress and worsen over time. Once diagnosed, Lyme may be treated with antibiotics. Are you thinking, um, what about my cat? Cats rarely contract Lyme disease.
To prevent tick bites and tick borne diseases, especially Lyme, here in Vermont, we have to be smart!! Let’s outsmart the ticks!
First, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about tick prevention products. Tick prevention is very effective. For dogs, oral chews, topical products and collars are available. Some products kill multiple types of ticks, help prevent transmission of Lyme disease, kill fleas, even treat intestinal worms and prevent heartworm. Other products are more specific. Your veterinarian can help determine the best products, either prescription or over the counter, for your pet and lifestyle. A vaccine for Lyme disease is also available for dogs but tick prevention is still the first line of defense!
When we go outside, keep our dogs on the trails and away from tall grasses and underbrush. Regularly check for ticks after a walk or playing outside. If you find a tick that is attached, use a “tick tool” or tweezers to remove it as soon as possible. Tick tools come with instructions and if using tweezers, grab the tick’s head as close to the skin as possible and pull the tick straight back. Clean the area after removal and keep the tick in a glass jar in case future identification is needed. Do not use matches, Vaseline or squeeze the tick to try to remove it.
In addition to tick prevention, avoiding high grass and underbrush, and doing regular tick checks, it is also wise to speak to your veterinarian about testing your dog for Lyme and two other tick-borne diseases on a yearly basis. This test, called a 4DX, is run in-house and takes minutes! The 4DX test also checks for heartworm disease which, unlike Lyme, is transmitted by mosquitoes.
Enjoy the summer, be tick smart and stay safe!!! Prevention is the key!!