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'Beware, ticks are springing into action'
By Wendy Morré, DVM
Though we welcome spring after a long and cold winter, with it comes increased risks for our pets. Ticks are especially active beginning in the spring months, often appearing even when snow is still on the ground. Though ticks prefer woodland and brushy areas, they are often found in our own backyard. These nasty little creatures can carry a multitude of diseases that can be passed to your pet. The most common tick transmitted diseases seen in pets in northern New York are Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis.
Lyme disease, first recognized in humans in the mid-1970s and dogs in the early 1980s, is the most commonly tick transmitted disease seen. This disease is caused by the spirochete borrelia burgdorfei and is carried by the Ixodes scapularis species of tick—otherwise known as the deer tick in the northeast United States. These ticks are much smaller than the common dog tick and can often go unnoticed. When dogs are bitten, it often will go unnoticed. Unlike people who often get a characteristic rosy ring rash, dogs typically do not have skin lesions associated with Lyme disease. With any type of tick bite you may see a mild inflammatory reaction at the site of the bite, but that is not associated with Lyme disease. Dogs do not develop clinical illness right after being bitten. They may harbor the organism and become ill months later, or may never develop clinical signs. It is important to note that dogs cannot transmit Lyme disease directly to you. You must be bitten directly by a tick to acquire the disease. Cats, though, seem particularly resistant to the disease.
Typical clinical signs seen in a dog with Lyme disease are lethargy, fever and lameness. The lameness may affect only one joint or multiple joints. In some instances, the organism may lead to inflammation in the kidneys causing kidney failure. There have also been reports of neurologic and heart effects. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics for a full recovery. Occasionally, the effects can be irreversible and can result in chronic arthritis, kidney failure and even death.
Anaplasmosis, which is also transmitted by the deer tick, can have similar clinical signs to Lyme disease. Often fever and lameness will result. Occasionally blood clotting abilities will be impacted resulting in bleeding disorders and anemia.
Ehrlichiosis, which is transmitted by the brown dog tick and American dog tick, can have a more severe effect on cell counts and clotting abilities, and often results in severe illness.
Both Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis can be successfully treated with antibiotics, if the disease is caught early. These diseases are considered rare in cats.
Screening for these diseases is relatively easy and can be done with a simple blood test. This test is often incorporated with a dog’s annual exam and heartworm test and is known as a 4Dx. If a positive result for one of these organisms is seen, additional blood and/or urine testing will often be required to help determine the best course of action for your pet. Antibody levels, urine protein levels, kidney function and blood cell counts are some of the things that may be further checked. Sometimes it is appropriate to just monitor your pet, whereas other times an antibiotic or other medication may be prescribed. Every case is treated on an individual basis.
The best method of protection is prevention. Check your pet daily for ticks. This will also decrease the chances of a tick falling off your pet and biting you. Ticks typically have to stay attached for more than 24-48 hours before they can transmit the disease. Avoid walking your pet in brushy woodland and tick prone areas if possible. Provide some type of tick protection, whether it be a topical drop or tick collar, for your pet year round. Ticks are notoriously cold hardy and can appear even with snow on the ground. Depending upon your pet’s risk, there is also a vaccine available. Your veterinarian can discuss whether or not your pet may benefit from the vaccine.
With the right precautions, you and your pet can enjoy the outdoors with little worries. Happy Spring!
Dr. Morre grew up in Connecticut and in Maine. She attended Murray State University in Kentucky where she graduated with a B.S. in Animal Science. She then attended veterinary school at Iowa State University, graduating in 1999. She went on to complete a rotating internship in small animal surgery and medicine at Oklahoma State University in 2000. She then practiced on the coast of Maine and New Hampshire for several years. Her professional interests include internal medicine and oncology.