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What pet owners should know about ticks
By Annette Jones, DVM, of Bayview Animal Hospital
Lately, a growing tick problem has hit Rochester, which naturally has many people concerned about ticks and diseases associated with them. These little insects are fairly hardy, and have evolved over time to an almost perfect external parasite. They exist mostly to feed and breed and are challenging to kill (think cockroaches). To prevent disease, we need to better understand both ticks and the diseases they can carry.
Why am I finding ticks on my animals when I've never seen them before?
1. Global warming. Whether you believe in it or not, with our recent milder winters, more ground animals (hosts) and ticks are making it through the winter.
2. Encroachment. We love trees and wildlife and are moving toward integrating wooded areas (tick habitats) into our community; with these changes come ticks.
3. Migration. Specific tick species have been slowly expanding their habitats (usually through wildlife migration).
How do ticks find their hosts?
To simplify, ticks "quest" in the wild for a host. Questing involves ticks getting on leafy vegetation, sitting up and holding their legs out in front of them. When a shadow crosses their paths, they lunge and grab on. Once on their prey, they look for a good place to start feeding and then breeding.
Ironically, since ticks like leafy vegetation, some of the bigger exposure areas tend to be edges of woods or fields, which we tend to think of as safe areas. This means if you are walking your pets and let them sniff the edges of woods, fields or roads, they may have a higher risk of exposure than a pet walking through the woods where there is no undergrowth.
I'm using flea and tick preventatives and ticks are still on my pets! Why isn't it working?!
This is another common question regarding ticks. Note the tick hunting pattern: They quest and lunge. They often do not know your pet has tick protection until they are on your pet and exposed. After the tick is on your animal, it is just a matter of time before the medication kills it. However, if you find a tick on your pet, please remove it.
Why does the tick medicine say it repels ticks?
There are many different medications and they all work differently. The key is to check with your veterinarian on how your preventatives work. Most medications say they repel ticks and they actually do, but you still have the questing tick to contend with. Each tick species quests differently, which increases the challenge factor of keeping them off. Once a tick is on an animal, it is a matter of how fast the medication kills the tick. Different animals and situations have tick prevention medicine that should be recommended for them by their veterinarian to ensure the best protection.
How does my animal get a tick disease?
When the tick attaches and starts feeding, it can transmit tick borne diseases. Tick borne diseases are carried in the tick and mature to an infective stage in the tick. Most people know about Lyme disease (caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria), but for animals, a large number of additional diseases (such as Ehrlichia canis) can spread from infected ticks. Although not every tick has a tick borne disease, the longer an infected tick is attached to your animal, the greater the chance it can spread the disease.
How can I remove a tick?
Here are a few tips on removing ticks.
1. Do NOT attempt to burn a tick! Your animal is flammable.
2. Do not try and suffocate the tick with Vaseline, oil, nail polish or other substances. This method takes a long time due to microscopic air bubbles getting trapped and providing the tick with breathable air. Plus, it irritates your pet's skin.
3. Try to avoid using your fingers. If you squeeze the tick, you can facilitate the release of contagious bacteria from the tick's gastric system to your animal's skin.
4. Staff members at your animal hospital can help you remove it and can discuss or show you different tick removal tips and devices.
5. For more information on ticks and how to remove them, you can also visit here.
What should I do to limit my pet's exposure to diseases that ticks can spread?
Tick control is the most important aspect of preventing disease. Using a veterinarian-recommended tick preventative for your dog or cat is important. Be aware many over-the-counter products that are used for tick control may contain chemicals that are harmful if inappropriately applied or used.
If your animals leave your house, you should do a full-body visual and touch check for ticks when they return. Also, at home it is important to keep surrounding grass and vegetation short to make it harder for ticks to migrate into your backyard.
In addition, Lyme disease vaccines are available for dogs. Your veterinarian would be the best individual to assess your dog's current need and discuss the vaccine's usefulness, benefits and risks.
How should you respond to ticks?
Every dog deserves his day in the sun. This article isn't intended to frighten you into becoming housebound, but rather to help you understand the challenge of ticks. To summarize, here are a few tips to help you overcome the difficulties ticks present.
1. Talk to your veterinarian about the best tick protection for your animals. Your veterinarian will determine the most effective and safest product available for your pet.
2. Use tick prevention regularly!
3. Be vigilant. Check your animals thoroughly when they come back from outside, even if it was a short walk in the neighborhood.
4. If you find a tick, stay calm! Remove it or seek assistance from your veterinarian.
5. If you are finding a lot of ticks on your pet, discuss it with your veterinarian so they may modify your pet's prevention plan.