So far, no one has signed up for the job of tick census taker. However, veterinary parisitologist Dr. Susan Little says she knows that tick numbers are “definitely on the rise.” In fact, compared to say 30 years ago, tick numbers are exploding. So, it follows are incidents of tick-borne disease in people, and in dogs.
In fact, a new study uncovered the presence of at least three tick-borne diseases, Lyme disease, and the lesser known but equally insidious diseases Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis in every state in the country.
"This information is important because it indicates the significant degree to which people and pets are being exposed to tick-borne diseases, and potentially serious illnesses,” Little says.
“We can definitely track the explosion in tick populations by following the deer,” says Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine – Raleigh. “The deer have also been responsible for re-locating ticks; a raccoon might travel a few miles in a lifetime; deer travel much further.” Breitschwerdt adds some tick species once found exclusively in the south are now turning up as far north a Minnesota.
You can’t blame Bambi alone. Little, of the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology Center for Veterinary Health Sciences Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, Oklahoma suggests increasing wildlife numbers, in general, from turkeys to squirrels are also guilty of carrying ticks.. “It’s wonderful that wildlife that is coming back, and that we’re preserving nature, but a consequence are more ticks.”
And it’s not only the ticks – it’s the little presents ticks most often leave behind. Breitschwerdt was among the first to figure out that one tick can transmit several disease organisms with a single bite.
Flea products available through veterinary offices do an excellent of job of keeping fleas off your pets. Ticks sometimes aren’t as cooperative about immediately dropping dead and falling off. “People may have unrealistic expectations,” says Little. “You need to help out too. To the extent you can, limit wildlife populations where the dogs go. And at least if you know wildlife is around, frequently check your dog for ticks. Quick removal of ticks is wise. Also, clear brush in front of your home. And don’t bathe your dog immediately after application of a (tick) product, wait at least two or three days. Realistically, ticks are pretty resilient.”
Rather than guessing about what tick products may or may not be effective by picking and choosing over the counter, where most products may not have a proven track record, Little says simply talk to your veterinarian. The tick product of choice is based on where you live and the prevalence of ticks. How often you travel to where ticks may be more common is another factor. So is your lifestyle, even in the big city. It’s true that since ticks can’t survive on concrete, tick prevention isn’t typically a issue in Manhattan – that is unless you spend weekends in tick-heavy New England or even hang out in some city dog parks. Interestingly, veterinarians report at least some ticks sticking it to pets in dog parks and/or city parks in Chicago, Boston and New York. The presumption is that dogs and even birds have relocated ticks from rural forests and camping grounds to the big city.
The most well known of tick-transmitted diseases in Lyme disease. Spread by primarily deer ticks, and most prevalent in New England, it also occurs often throughout the Midwest, even upper Minnesota and Iowa as well as along the Eastern coast down to Maryland. At least one study suggests 18 percent of all dogs in Connecticut are now walking around with Lyme disease. While joint pain is the most common symptom; others include lethargy, fever, and rarely renal disease. Many dogs have no clinical signs whatsoever. Lyme is the only tick disease which there is a vaccine, making prevention possible.
Little says, “If Lyme is common where you live, your veterinarian may suggest this vaccine. Dogs with Lyme are treated with antibiotics.”
Hepatozoon is the worst tick disease a dog can get, and is transmitted by the brown dog and the gulf coast ticks. “This is very painful, “ says Little. “White cell counts go through the roof, and then a muscle wasting occurs. There is no cure. We put the dogs on pain meds and an anti protozoa medication for the rest of the dog’s life.”
Less devastating, but still potentially deadly is Anaplasmosis transmitted by the deer tick. Symptoms include a high fever, low platelet count, bleeding and joint pain.
Other tick diseases include the ubiquitous Ehrlichiosis, also Babesiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (which nowadays occurs throughout America). Theses tick diseases can be treated. However, Little says treatment is trickier when a dog is infected with more than a single infectious organism, which does happen.
While the threat of ticks may fade away in the dead of winter in Northern climates, it seems ticks are remaining a threat later into the fall and the threat in the Spring is that ticks are biting earlier than ever. In many places in America, ticks are now a year-round issue. That’s one reason why Little says the Companion Animal Parasite Council is now suggesting tick control year-round.
Learn more about tick disease and prevention at www.petsandparasites.org.