May 4, 2020

Wellness & Prevention

Ticks and How to Deal With Them

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

They’re creepy and crawly. They’re blood-sucking. And chances are, they’re closer to you than you think. I’m talking about ticks! It’s possible that the thought of a gross, blood-sucking insect gives you the creeps. But, did you know that in addition to being gross, ticks also can be the source for multiple different diseases that can affect your pet? Don’t despair though! There are ways to help protect your pet from these tiny little blood-sucking bugs and the diseases that they spread.

When do I need to worry about ticks?ticks

In general, ticks enjoy the slightly cooler weather, so in spring and fall, ticks are most active in Northeast Wisconsin. This doesn’t mean that we can’t see them at other times of the year, but these seasons are when ticks are most active. After our first good frost, ticks go into a state of dormancy (similar to hibernation) and wait for warmer weather to re-emerge. Ticks are most commonly found in wooded areas, areas of tall grasses, or areas where wildlife (like deer) like to travel or live. If you are a city-dweller, this doesn’t mean that you won’t see any ticks. Any animals that cross through your yard can brings parasites with them. However, if you live in the city, your pet’s risk of exposure to ticks will most likely be lower than it is for rural residents.

What diseases can ticks spread?

In our area, there are 3 major diseases associated with tick bites. These are:

  • Lyme disease
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Anaplasmosis

These diseases can all vary in symptoms and in severity. Often times, symptoms in the early stages of the diseases are silent. By that I mean that you don’t see a lot of noticeable changes in your pet’s appearance or behavior. Problems are starting to occur, but you won’t notice them. In later stages of the diseases, some pets will show signs of significant lameness or joint pain on multiple limbs. Some pets will exhibit shifting leg lameness, meaning that your pet may start limping with one leg and later begin limping with a different leg. In advanced or severe cases, tick-borne diseases can also cause irreversible kidney disease/damage.

What do I do if I find a tick on my pet?

The best thing to do is to remove the tick from your pet as soon as possible. The best way to do this is to gently but firmly grasp the tick by the head as close to your pet’s skin as possible. Then, with consistent, even pressure, pull the tick straight off or twist is a clockwise fashion to remove the tick. After the tick is off, check to make sure that the whole tick has been removed. If you are unsure, your vet can help you check to see if the whole tick has been removed. It is common for the bite area to be red or irritated for a few days. A tick bite may look similar to how our skin looks after a mosquito bite. If the area is painful or looks infected, please contact your vet as soon as possible.

How do I know if my pet has a tick related disease?

If your pet has been bitten by a tick, it is best to have your pet tested for tick-borne diseases. We use a simple blood test called a 4DX test that can be run right in our office.  It takes about 10 minutes to get results. This test, however, should be run 6 weeks after the tick bite, as the disease does not immediately show up on the 4DX test. Based on the results of the 4DX test, further blood tests may be needed to confirm whether or not there is an active infection and which treatments would be most effective.

Are there treatments for tick diseases?

Yes! And like with most illnesses, the earlier the disease is detected, the less likely there is to be any long term or damaging effects. Treatment typically consists of antibiotic medication administered between 14-30 days. Sometimes we add additional pain management medications or supplements to help support pets’ immune systems during the infection.

How can I help to prevent ticks on my pet?

The best way to stop a tick-borne disease is to prevent the ticks from biting your pet in the first place. There are many products available for tick prevention. Please keep in mind that not all tick preventatives are the same. We recommend using Bravecto, which is a chewable tablet given once every 3 months to help with flea and tick prevention. Be aware that with preventatives, you still may find ticks on your pet. However, with Bravecto in particular, the ticks die so quickly that they have no time to feed on your pet and transmit diseases.

In addition to tick preventatives, there are other products available to decrease your pet’s exposure to ticks. Some products use essential oils to repel ticks. These products won’t kill the tick or prevent attachment, but they do deter ticks to some degree. Some pest control companies offer special yard treatments to help decrease insects including ticks. If you use one of these treatments, please follow precautions very carefully as some chemicals used for yards could be toxic to your pet. Don’t allow your pet on the treated grass too soon after application. Another way to decrease your pet’s risk is to not take them to high exposure areas, like the woods, during peak tick seasons.

Ticks can be creepy and gross. Ticks can carry diseases. But ticks don’t have to be scary. There are ways to help protect your pet from these little bugs and the diseases they carry. As always, prevention is the key. If you have any questions about the best tick prevention option for your pet, please call our office at (920) 863-3220!

Dr. Heintz and her dog, Mimi
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 the University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.