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.
Trimming grass and brush in your backyard to minimize tick habitats is helpful. A wooded home environment invites wildlife, and hitchhiking ticks, to your back door.
Your pet — and his humans — should be checked daily for ticks. A fine-toothed comb for Fido and Fluffy is essential. Immature ticks can be as tiny as poppy seeds. These are difficult to find on people, and virtually impossible to find on your furry pet. Sometimes, immature deer ticks (nymphs) will be visible on the eyelid margins of cats, appearing as tiny dark grains of sand. Nevertheless, good tick checks will reveal many ticks, especially larger adult ticks.
If you find a tick on your pet, carefully remove it. Use tweezers to grasp the tick. Do not twist, squeeze or crush it. After removal, dab the area with disinfectant and wash your hands. Flush the captured tick down the toilet to prevent it from crawling out of your trash. If this process makes you squeamish, ask your veterinary team for help.
Year-round tick prevention is recommended for cats and dogs. Contrary to popular belief, ticks survive New England winters. Effective anti-tick products are applied topically and cannot be given as a pill.
The myriad tick-prevention products can be mind-boggling. Here are some considerations during your selection:
1. Ticks are difficult critters to kill. No product is 100 percent effective. Expect to find occasional ticks on your pet regardless of what product you use.
2. Cats are not little dogs. Never use a product on cats that is labeled for dogs only. This can be deadly for Fluffy.
3. Typical over-the-counter tick collars are poorly effective. Choose something that has a better chance of keeping the nasty critters off your sweet pet.
4. Most topical tick products need to be applied monthly. However, not all will give you satisfactory performance throughout the month.
5. It’s unreasonable to expect a topical product to be unaffected by repeated swimming or bathing. Any topical product can have reduced effectiveness if Fido is bathed a lot or swims frequently.
6. Certain products are more likely than others to wash off. Your veterinarian can help you wade through this information.
7. Certain medicated shampoos can strip the coat of topical parasite prevention. Talk to your veterinarian before using shampoos.
8. Topical products need to be applied properly in order to maximize their effectiveness. Your veterinary team can teach you how to apply the product correctly for optimal tick prevention. If your pet is squirmy, ask your veterinary team for help. Most offices are happy to do this as a complimentary service every month.
9. If pesticides concern you, let your veterinarian know. Remember that ticks are difficult to kill, so options are limited. However, topical medicines (as opposed to pesticides) are available.
10. The goal is to keep your pet and family safe. Pets can bring ticks into the home, infecting two-legged family members.
Dr. Heidi Bassler practices at Bassler Veterinary Hospital (www.BasslerVet.com). She hosts a radio show, “Your Pet’s Health,” every Sunday morning at 8:30 on AM-1450 WNBP. Do you have questions for Dr. Bassler? Send them to email@example.com.