May 7, 2018

General Wellness & Prevention

Ticks: What you need to know to protect yourself and your pets!

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

It’s that time of year again: tick season. Ticks are common throughout the United States, and their population seems to be increasing. Ticks transmit several awful diseases, but the one I will discuss in this post is Lyme disease.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a serious problem for animals and humans alike. It is caused when bacteria is transmitted to animals and people from infected black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks). Although pets do not transmit Lyme’s disease directly to humans, they can bring ticks into a household. It is important to check your pets for ticks to keep them safe and to keep your family protected as well.

Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose in pets for several reasons:

  • an owner may not know that the pet had a tick bite;
  • dogs do not get the same bulls-eye rash that humans get at the location of a tick bite; and
  • current blood testing for the diagnosis of Lyme disease can be inaccurate.

The clinical signs of Lyme disease in a dog include:

  • sudden ‘shifting leg’ lameness;
  • joint pain;
  • fever;
  • lethargy;
  • poor appetite;
  • swollen lymph nodes; and
  • possible heart or kidney problems.

We recommend the Lyme vaccine for any dog with a lifestyle that may expose him/her to ticks. Tick-prone environments include wooded areas, bushes, and tall grasses.  For best results, give the Lyme vaccine yearly, preferably in early spring.

Tick Prevention

The first step in the fight against Lyme disease is to avoid ticks altogether. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Keep pets on a well-mowed yard away from tall grasses.
  • Avoid shady areas; bright sunlight helps dry out and kill ticks.
  • Protect dogs with prevention medications that help repel and kill ticks before they attach or can transmit diseases.
  • Examine dogs often and promptly and carefully remove ticks.

Removal of Ticks

When removing a tick from your pet, make sure that you do it correctly. Using tweezers, grasp the tick at the point of attachment. Pull the tick gently and steadily away from the skin. When pulling the tick, be careful not to detach the body from the head of the tick.

If part of the tick’s mouthpart remains in the skin, they may cause irritation and infection at the site of the bite. Also, avoid crushing the tick during removal to prevent contamination of the wound. Once the tick is successfully removed, apply a dab of alcohol to disinfect the bite wound.

Home Invasion

Another reason to use tick control measures on your dog is to prevent a tick infestation in your home. The brown dog tick can complete its entire life cycle in a domestic setting, apart from a pet or human host.

Gravid (pregnant) female ticks tend to crawl upward and can deposit up to 3,000 eggs in protected places like cracks and crevices in walls and ceilings. The larvae then move downward and hide around baseboards, windows, curtains, and furniture. Each stage of the tick’s life cycle can persist for several months without a blood meal. Thus, your home may even be infected long after dogs are gone.

Tick Prevention Products

There are several different tick prevention products on the market. You should choose the product(s) that best suits your pet’s individual needs.

Our office recommends Bravecto because it is a very effective medication with very few side effects. Bravecto is a chewable tablet that you give to your pet once every three months (12 weeks). Many pets think it is a treat! This product should be given with food to avoid any digestive upset.

Beware of some of the less expensive, over-the-counter flea and tick products. Many less expensive products use chemicals such as permethrin, which can be very irritating or may cause a reaction.

Ask Your Veterinarian

If you aren’t sure what tick prevention product is best for your pet, ask us. We can explain the benefits and drawbacks to each of the products, and we can advise you based on your pet’s lifestyle and exposure to ticks. We can help you maximize the protection for your pet while minimizing the risk of side effects.

Dr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.