Waiting until summer to start tick protection leaves pets vulnerable to Lyme disease, a painful and infectious tick-borne disease that can be fatal to pets. To prevent Lyme disease, here’s some important tick-protection information to share with pet owners.

 

How Ticks Find Hosts

As members of the arachnid family (which includes spiders, scorpions and mites), ticks cannot jump or fly. Ticks crawl to the tips of grasses and shrubs where they wait until a moving body (bird, wild animal, pet, or person) brushes past, whereupon they let go of the vegetation and hitch a ride on the passerby.

 

The Tick That Causes Lyme Disease

deer tickThe deer tick: Found in wooded areas and along forest trails where they wait for white-tailed deer, the deer tick (a.k.a. the black-legged tick) is the most common carrier of Lyme disease. The deer tick is widely distributed in Canada and the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains, and along the Pacific Coast from Oregon to Baja California and Mexico. Deer ticks also transmit anaplasmosis and babesiosis.

 

Other Ticks That Pets Are Likely to Encounter

The American dog tick: Widely found across Canada and U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains and in limited areas along the Pacific Coast. Dog ticks transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.

The lone star tick: Found across the east, southeast and midwest areas of the U.S. and recently found to have been making its way into Canada. Lone star ticks transmit tularemia, heartland virus and Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI).

The brown dog tick: One of the most widely distributed ticks in the world and found across Canada and the U.S. Brown dog ticks transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis.

 

Tick Protection for Pets

There are many types of tick preventives. Some are available over the counter. Others are available only through your veterinarian.

Topical preventives (typically applied on the skin at the back of the neck) include Frontline® Plus,Bravecto® Topical Solution, and Advantix®. Chewable preventatives include NexGard® and Simparica®, as well as Bravecto® Chew. Your veterinarian can make specific recommendations and help you choose the right product for your pet.

 

Caution for Cat Owners

NEVER use a dog tick prevention product on a cat. Tick preventives meant specifically for dogs can be toxic to cats and cause seizures. There are many tick preventives made specifically for cats. These range from over-the-counter powders and collars to prescription products available only through your veterinarian.

 

What to Do If You Find a Tick on Your Pet

If you find a tick on your pet, it needs to be removed. Follow these steps or contact your veterinarian for help.

You’ll need tweezers or a tick removal tool (see below) and disposable gloves – infectious bacteria can be passed through breaks in the skin (a paper cut or hangnail) simply by handling ticks.  Wearing disposable gloves, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible. This reduces the chance of the tick’s body

breaking away from its head, leaving the head in the skin. Pull the tick off with steady, even pressure. Continue using steady pressure even if the tick does not release. It may take a minute or two of constant, slow pulling before it releases its grip.

There are also commercially available tick removal tools (e.g. Tick Twister®) – but be careful! Twisting or jerking the tick may cause the tick to break away leaving some of the mouth parts in the skin, which increases the risk of infection. If you are unable to remove the tick, contact your veterinarian.

If you don’t have disposable gloves, shield your fingers with a tissue or paper towel.

Home remedies such as touching the rear of a tick with a hot match, or applying petroleum jelly or grease, are not effective and not recommended. These techniques cause the tick to salivate, which increases the risk of infection.

After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Thoroughly wash your hands as well, even if you wore gloves.

You may wish to preserve the extracted tick in a container filled with rubbing alcohol. Label the bottle with the date and area where your pet may have picked up the tick.

Contact your veterinarian to find out where the tick may be sent for identification. This will help your veterinarian with a diagnosis if signs of a tick-borne disease appear.

 

Signs of Lyme Disease in Pets

Many dogs with Lyme disease are taken to a veterinarian because they have stopped eating, become lethargic, and appear to be sore all over. Affected dogs have been described as “walking on eggshells.” They may also begin to limp. This lameness often appears suddenly and may shift from one leg to another. If untreated, it may eventually subside—only to recur weeks or months later. A high fever is common with both forms of disease.

If infected with Lyme disease for a prolonged period, the disease can become widespread throughout the body. Lyme disease can affect the kidneys, causing vomiting, lethargy, lack of appetite, and weight loss. The kidney form of the disease is less common than the joint form but is often fatal.

Discuss tick preventives with your veterinarian and check your pet daily for ticks. If your pet is showing signs of Lyme disease, contact your veterinarian who may recommend testing for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.

For more information about ticks, signs of tick-borne disease, and tick removal, visit the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s newly launched tick awareness website Tick Talk or talk to your veterinarian.

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