Ava is ticked off and that’s a good thing.
It’s especially welcome news when you’re a border collie who lives in a woodsy area by a lake. We make a habit of checking for ticks in the fur (not a small task since they are about the size of a sesame seed); she’s had her preventive medication and we’ve taken procedures recommended by her veterinarian. Her test came up negative.
Awareness is a critical element when dealing with health care, so we consulted the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) and other resources and asked Michael Casler, DVM, of Guilderland Animal Hospital about the risks, symptoms, diseases in the Capital Region that can develop from interaction with ticks, and preventive actions.
What are these little critters? Of the many kinds of ticks, the deer tick (or Ixodes) can carry and be infected with the bacteria causing Lyme disease and anaplasmosis. In New York State, 1 out of 10 dogs are at risk; the brown dog tick (or Rhipicephalus sanguineus) can transmit anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis. New York dogs are at risk at rates of 1 of 18 and 1 of 233, respectively, for these two diseases. Dogs may get multiple tick-borne infections. Check out the geographic mapping tools at www.dogsandticks.com.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, this disease, which can affect humans, too, is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States. Only ticks infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria become the vectors or transmitters to pass it along to the dog or person, as it is the bacteria that cause the disease. Young tick may feed on mice or other hosts that are infected with the bacteria; the ticks then go on to infect others, including dogs and people.
Vigilance is critical as symptoms, including lameness, swollen and painful joints, and lack of energy, may not be readily apparent, may present and go away, or may mask as another problem. And, no, a bull’s eye won’t show up in dogs, as it might in humans. Dr. Casler points out that prevention is a year-round task since ticks are active even in the winter on days when temperatures are at least 40 degrees, an increasing common weather occurrence.
Since ticks are often found in woods, grasses, bushes and shady areas, keep lawns mowed, trim back and limit shrubbery, and rake up leaves. Ticks are on vegetation and attach themselves as dogs or people pass by—they wait and reach for you and your dog in a process called questing. If the tick is infected, this transmission isn’t instantaneous but may take a number of hours of feeding off their new hosts, so get rid of ticks quickly. Be aware that bird feeders can attract animals that transmit diseases to ticks. Carriers of the disease include white-footed deer mice, chipmunks or other small mammals found in almost every suburban back yard. Taking your dog on a walk, picnic, camping or waterside visit also should be accompanied by a tick watch. It is estimated that only two percent of dogs are never outside.
Regularly check your pet when they are out and about. The AVMA reports, “Lyme disease is not communicable from one animal to another except through tick bites.” Your veterinarian may recommend testing of other dogs in the household. The AVMA describes tick-borne disease as a “one health” problem, noting that “because people and their pets often can be found together outdoors as well as indoors, a Lyme disease diagnosis in any family member—whether human or nonhuman—should serve as a flag that all family members might consult their physicians and veterinarians, who can advise about further evaluation or testing.” AVMA offers a Lyme Disease: A Pet Owner’s Guide.
What should you do if you see a tick on your dog? “Ticks should be removed ASAP with tweezers or special tick removers,” says Dr. Casler. “Avoid crushing the body and place the tweezers or tick remover at the head of tick as close to the skin as possible.” Keep the area clean. Don’t just throw away the tick; place it in a container with rubbing alcohol to ensure it will not live to make more trouble.
Make a preventive plan with vet
In addition to taking steps to avoid attracting ticks in your environment, including your backyard, make a preventive plan with your veterinarian. Seek your vets’ advice to get a regimen going appropriate for your dog’s lifestyle, location and conditions. That includes regular use of the preventive product determined by your veterinarian to be right for your pet. “Topical spot-on products, such as Frontline and Advantix, are popular and Frontline spray is very effective for tick control but not as convenient to apply,” notes Dr. Casler who adds that he often uses the spray as a supplemental or adjunct treatment in high-risk areas. There’s also an oral treatment, Nexgard, which can be effective. He advises that all pets need to be treated in multiple pet households, not only for tick prevention but also for fleas.
None of the tick controls are 100 percent effective, explains Dr. Casler. In some cases, Lyme vaccines may be recommended but, he emphasizes, vaccines should be given under the recommendation and discretion of the dog’s veterinarian.
Your veterinarian may perform a blood test that detects antibodies against Lyme, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and heartworm. Results of this “SNAP test” are available in about 10 minutes. If positive findings, treatment, Dr. Casler explains, will be planned by the veterinarian based on factors such as clinical signs and history. This might involve a 30-day course of the antibiotic doxycycline, the standard course of treatment. “Only 15-20 percent dogs with positive test results show any overt clinical signs,” he says, noting that dogs with co-infection show more severe clinical signs. He finds approximately 22-25 percent of dogs in his practice to be positive for Lyme, 12 percent for anaplasmosis, and 1% or less for ehrlichiosis and heartworm.