If you have been paying attention, you may have noticed that there has been an explosion of ticks attacking our pets recently. This is due to several factors: global warming is making it easier for ticks to reproduce and ticks have developed resistance to chemicals typically used to repel and kill them. Ticks are parasites that look like miniature spiders. They live their lives looking for victims to feed from so they can continue multiplying. They are very clever in the way they find their victims. They are attracted to the body heat and carbon dioxide produced by their victims. With two of their legs extended towards the sky, hidden in vegetation, they wait patiently for a victim to pass by, and then latch on. Although they do not fly or jump, no one is safe from ticks; they suck blood from mammals, including humans, cats, and dogs, as well as birds and even reptiles.
It is extremely important to prevent tick infestations in our pets since they transmit serious diseases not only to our pets, but also to us (known as “zoonotic diseases”, those that are transmitted between animals and humans). Tick-borne diseases are reaching proportions at epidemic levels; reported cases are increasing in the US, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Not all ticks transmit diseases though, only those ones that have bitten an infected wild animal. To further complicate matters, a single tick can harbor and transmit more than one disease.
Diseases transmitted by ticks generally produce symptoms such as fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, and enlargement of the lymph nodes. Some of these diseases can also cause anemia, intermittent lameness, kidney and liver failure, pneumonia, paralysis and even seizures, among other pathologies. The most common diseases ticks transmit are Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Borreliosis (aka “Lyme disease”), Rocky Mountain Fever, and Ticks paralysis. Tick prevention must be a priority for every pet owner. Here are some tips for tick infestation prevention:
- Inspect your pet every time she/he comes back from a walk. Check for ticks in their favorite places: armpits, groin, between toes, and in ears. Remove any ticks with tweezers, and flush any that you find down the toilet. Checking your pet for ticks daily can greatly minimize the risk of contracting a disease, since ticks must be attached to the skin for at least 24 hours to be able to transmit disease.
- Use a product to kill ticks that is safe for your pet and follow the instructions on the label.
- Never use tick products for dogs on cats.
- Vacuum carpets and furniture frequently, and wash your pet’s bed weekly.
- Vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease if there is a heavy tick infestation in the area (Lyme disease is the only tick-borne disease at present time that has a vaccine available to prevent it).
- Ask your veterinarian to run a diagnostic blood panel for tick-borne disease once a year in order to monitor for possible early infections. Most tick-borne diseases might take months before symptoms develop.
Tick infestations have horrible consequences for your pets and family. Once established in your home, it is very difficult to get rid of ticks. The best offense against tick infestations is a good defense. Adequate preventative measures can not only protect your pet but your family as well.
Dr Sanchez-Emden is the founder of the Animal Health and Rehab Center in South Miami. She has been practicing veterinary medicine for 24 years. As a Certified Veterinary Journalist, she is the resident veterinarian for various national tv shows. She authored the book “CHIHUAHUAS: How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend”. She also hosts the podcast show “ Hablando de Perros y Gatos con Dr Marta” available at the main internet platforms. Follow her @Drmartavet on You Tube, Instagram and Twitter. Also find her at Facebook.com/dr.sanchezemden and animalhealthrehab.com