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July 12, 2013

Keeping ticks off your pets

Experts are predicting an extremely high threat of Lyme disease this year. This warning was developed by the same group of statisticians that are responsible for forecasting severe weather. The Northeast is the largest problem area, and Massachusetts is the bull’s-eye for this highlighted region.

It seems as though everyone has heard of Lyme disease. This debilitating illness is just the tip of the iceberg for tick-borne disease.

The Newburyport area has a reputation for ticks galore. Our popular friend, the deer tick, is high on this list. American dog ticks and the increasingly more common lone star tick are runners-up.

Each species of tick has its repertoire of transmissible diseases. In Essex County, Lyme disease is the most common, with 1 in 6 dogs testing positive. Anaplasma is a close second, accounting for more than 20 percent of canine anaplasmosis in the country. Ehrlichia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia continue the list.

Ticks spread illness by attaching to animals (or humans) and feeding. As it sucks blood, the tick’s body concentrates the nutritious components and spits water back into the animal. If the tick is carrying bacteria, such as for Lyme disease, this tick spit will also infect its host.

Tick diseases are not spread directly from dog to person or vice versa. Protecting your pet and family from tick-transmitted disease means you have to prevent ticks from attaching.

Although a vaccine is available to help prevent Lyme disease in dogs, other tick diseases can only be avoided by keeping the tick from attaching to your pet.

Try to avoid tick-infested areas. Wooded trails are frequently visited by common tick hosts, such as rodents, chipmunks, raccoons, coyotes and white-tailed deer. However, the list of hosts is almost endless, as virtually any mammal or bird can be a tick host, depending on the tick species and its life stage.

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