Springtime is here and your pets are probably just as happy as you are to welcome the beautiful weather. But with the carefree frolicking in the grass comes a hidden danger: ticks. Ticks feed on the blood of their hosts. These skin parasites are attracted to motion, body heat, and carbon dioxide exhaled by mammals.
Ticks live 2 years and most have 4 life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Each tick stage requires a blood meal before it can reach the next stage. Their most common targets include dogs, cats, rodents, deer, and small mammals. A single female adult tick can lay more than 2,000 eggs.
Ticks must be attached for at least 24 to 48 hours to transmit disease. In the Northeast the most common tick-borne diseases include Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Lyme disease seems to be the most common tick-borne disease diagnosed in people and dogs in this area. Although cats can be infected with the organism that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), they do not seem to be affected by the disease. Lyme disease affects people and dogs differently.
The majority of people who are infected by Lyme disease will develop a skin rash. They may eventually develop joint pain, neurologic problems, and abnormal heart rhythms. Some people develop chronic, recurrent symptoms.
Dogs with Lyme disease also develop joint pain, but rarely develop neurologic or heart problems. Dogs usually respond quickly to antibiotics and rarely have long-term or recurrent symptoms. There is one serious potential complication of the disease in dogs which causes damage to the kidneys, called lyme nephritis. This rare complication of the canine disease can be fatal.
What can be done to protect pets from tick-borne diseases?
1) Environmental control- Spraying lawns and yards with environmentally friendly sprays every 2 weeks can decrease the tick population. Clear out decayed leaf debris from under bushes.
2) Inspection of your pet- Daily inspection and combing of your pet will help to find ticks before they have time to attach and transmit disease.
3) Use of topical products for tick control- The newest era of tick prevention has included the use of residual insecticides which spread through the haircoat. There are many products out there, but some are safer than others. Beware of product labels and NEVER use a dog product on a cat. Cats are very sensitive to products containing permethrins, and exposure to this chemical can be fatal. The best advice is to consult with your veterinarian before using any product on your pet.
4) Vaccination – There are vaccinations available which can help protect your dog from the symptoms of Lyme disease. Your veterinarian will help you decide if this is the right option for your pet.
What can be done if my dog is diagnosed with Lyme disease?
A 30 day course of the antibiotic Doxycycline will frequently be an effective treatment . At my Animal Hospital, we also do a urine test to screen for any kidney damage from the disease.
I appreciate the opportunity to discuss topics of interest related to you and your pets. Hopefully sharing the practical advice I have given to my own clients during 20 years of practice will be both educational and enjoyable. Enjoy the springtime weather, but watch out for those ticks!
Co-owner of Valley Cottage Animal Hospital, Dr. Diane Tortorice was awarded her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 1991 from North Carolina State University. Dr. Tortorice joined the Valley Cottage Animal Hospital medical team in 1997 and became a partner in 1999. She is a member of the Westchester / Rockland Veterinary Medical Association and has served as secretary, vice president and president.
Dr. Diane Tortorice is a board certified Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners specializing in Canine and Feline Practice. The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners was established in 1978 to recognize excellence in clinical practice through the certification of species-oriented specialists.
Dr. Tortorice has served as a veterinary volunteer at both the World Trade Center and New Orleans animal disaster sites. She has been a member of the Rockland County Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) since 2004 and in 2006 served as the founding veterinary member of the County Animal Response Team of Rockland (CARToR). In 2008, the Westchester / Rockland Veterinary Medical Association awarded her with both the Past-President Award and the Merit Award for leadership and contributions to emergency and disaster preparedness for Rockland County.
By Diane B. Tortorice, DVM, Dipl. ABVP