Do You Make This Tick-Inviting Mistake?

Dog Ticks

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  • According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), this year Lyme-infected ticks are expanding into the Midwest and also the Mid-Atlantic states and remain a threat in New England and the Pacific Northwest. Also, the risk of ehrlichiosis will be high from Virginia to Texas, and heartworm disease will be a significant threat in Texas, the southeast, and the Pacific Coast.
  • On its website, the CAPC provides helpful interactive Parasite Prevalence Maps that are broken down by disease, species (dog or cat), state and county, so if you’re looking for information on what pests your pet might be exposed to this summer, in addition to consulting your veterinarian, you can also use CAPC’s maps as a guideline.
  • Unfortunately, the focus of the CAPC and many in the traditional veterinary community is to encourage pet owners to give their dog or cat year-round chemical pest preventives. We oppose this practice for a number of reasons, including the fact that rampant overuse of these preventives has led to pesticide resistance in ticks. Increasingly, dogs who’ve been given monthly chemical preventives all year, for many years, are showing up in veterinary offices with tick-borne illness.
  • Instead of giving your dog a potentially toxic pest preventive that may or may not be effective, Dr. Becker recommends performing daily tick checks on your pet once tick season arrives, safe removal and disposal of any ticks you may find on your dog, having your pet tested for tick-borne diseases three to four weeks after removing a tick, and twice yearly blood tests to check for internal, silent tick-borne infections.

By Dr. Becker

The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) has updated its Parasite Prevalence Maps for 2014, and is warning of “expanding tick territories and a higher risk of vector-borne diseases to previously less-susceptible pet populations,” according to dvm360.

2014 Parasite Forecast Summary

Some of the trends the CAPC is forecasting for the U.S. this year include:

  • Ticks carrying Lyme disease are expanding westward into areas of the Midwest, and southward into the Mid-Atlantic states; Lyme disease will continue to threaten New England and the Pacific Northwest.
  • Risk of ehrlichiosis will be very high from Virginia to Texas.
  • Heartworm disease will be a higher than normal threat in Texas, the southeast, and the Pacific Coast from Northern California to Washington state.

For information about the risk of tick-borne diseases in your area, take a look at the CAPC’s Parasite Prevalence Maps. The maps are broken down by disease, by dog or cat, by state, and by county. To the right of each map, you can find the prevalence of a given disease for the entire U.S. (for example, 1 out of 80 dogs tested positive for heartworm nationwide, which is 29,146 positive dogs out of 2,321,623 dogs tested), and if you click on a state, you’ll get the same information, but for that state only. You can also drill down to the county level if you like.

Beware Recommendations to Give Your Pet Year-Round Chemical Pest Preventives

Unfortunately, as useful as the CAPC’s maps are, the Council (whose sponsors are veterinary drug manufacturers) insists on recommending year-round chemical preventives for both dogs and cats. This is the case regardless of where an animal lives, when tick season starts and ends, whether a given disease is prevalent in a given species (cats and heartworm, for example), and in apparent ignorance of the fact that ticks have developed resistance to pesticides thanks to decades of overuse.

I routinely see dog patients that have been receiving monthly doses of pesticides for years, yet they still test positive for tick-borne illness. Clearly, these preventives aren’t as foolproof as their manufacturers would lead us to believe. They may reduce the number of ticks that attach to your dog, but those that do latch on can still transmit disease.

Another reason tick-borne diseases are on the rise is that insects other than ticks – specifically mosquitoes -- have been found to transmit some of these potentially lethal infections.

My Recommendations for Preventing a Tick-borne Infection

  • When flea and tick season arrives, check for ticks daily, and don’t overlook areas of your pet’s body where ticks can hide, like between the toes, the underside of the toes, in the earflaps and around the tail base. If you’re ever unsure whether you’re looking at a tick or some other bump on your dog, get out a magnifying glass and look for the telltale sign of a tick – legs.
  • Remember that ticks must be attached to your dog for at least 24 hours in order for disease-causing bacteria to be transmitted from the tick to your pet. That’s why daily tick checks and removing ticks immediately is a huge part of reducing your dog’s risk of acquiring a tick-borne disease. This is hands-down the safest and entirely non-toxic method of tick prevention.
  • If you find a tick on your dog, be sure to remove it correctly. Don’t use your bare hands. People can become infected by handling or crushing an infected tick. Wear gloves, or even better, use a tick-removing tool.
  • Grasp the tick very close to your pet’s skin with a tick removal tool or a pair of tweezers. Carefully pull the tick’s body away from the skin. Once it’s off, flush it down the toilet. Then disinfect your dog’s skin with soapy water or diluted povidone iodine (Betadine). Disinfect the area really well and monitor it for the next few days. If you notice any irritation or inflammation of the skin, you should contact your veterinarian.
  • Have your dog tested for tick-borne diseases about three to four weeks after removing a tick. The type of test to ask your vet for is the SNAP 4Dx or Accuplex test, which is a screening blood test. If you don’t have the 4Dx or Accuplex test done, you’ll want to watch your dog closely for several months for any signs of loss of appetite, lethargy, changes in gait, fever, intermittent limping – all the symptoms of potential tick-borne disease. And keep in mind that waiting until a dog exhibits symptoms isn’t the most proactive approach.

Checking your dog externally for ticks and having his blood checked regularly (I recommend every 6 months) for internal, silent infections is the very best approach to keeping your pet safe from potentially devastating tick-borne diseases.

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