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I hate ticks. Ticks are definitely on my “What was God Thinking?” list. I understand that they have some significance in the ecosystem, but I certainly don’t like finding them on my pets. Beyond the “ick factor”, ticks pose a serious health risk. They are responsible  for the transmission of a number of serious diseases including Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis, Erylichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Living with pets puts pet owners at greater risk for tick borne disease as any pet that goes outside could carry an infected tick back to into our homes.

Tick protection is an important part of pet health care. The goal is to stop the tick before it has the chance to transfer disease organisms. We would like a product with a fast kill time or even more ideally, a product that repels ticks so they never set foot on our pets. The product must also be safe for the pet and the family members.

Developing such a product is easier said than done because ticks are hard to kill. They have a very tough outer covering made of a substance called chitin. Think about how difficult it is to squish a tick. Chitin gives them a natural defense against trauma and chemical penetration. In other words, it takes a strong chemical to control ticks and it takes longer for it to kill them.

Pharmaceutical companies continue to look for newer molecules to meet all of these goals. There are still a number of older products available over the counter which contain dangerous insecticides such as organophosphates and carbamates. These products tend to be very inexpensive and so they have a financial appeal. The problem is that they have been responsible for many pet poisonings and deaths. The EPA and the FDA are currently examining the adverse event reports and product labeling for all spot-on flea and tick products in order to better protect consumers.

Some pets have medical conditions or are on medications which need to be considered before selecting a product. Lifestyle is another important consideration. If your pet spends a lot of time in the long grass or bushy areas he will likely need more protection than a pet that rarely leaves the house.

There is no one perfect product for all cats and dogs, but there are many good choices. Talk to your veterinarian about safety and good options for your pet before applying a flea and tick product.

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Ticks are skin parasites which attach to the host animal and feed on their blood. Tick bites can lead to several serious diseases in our pets. Ticks themselves do not cause the disease, they act as vectors for the infectious microorganisms which produce disease. A vector is a species which picks up infection from one animal and carries it to the next. During feeding the tick has access to the blood vessels of the host animal and can spread infectious organisms directly into the blood stream. The tick borne infections we see in this area include Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis (previously called Ehrylichiosis) and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Some of these diseases can affect humans as well.

Not all ticks are infected, so finding a tick on your pet does not necessarily mean your pet will become ill. But to protect your pet from these diseases you must protect her from ticks. There are a wide variety of products available including collars, sprays and spot-on applications. For the safety of your pet be sure to talk to your veterinarian about the best choice for your pet. Pets with certain medical conditions, taking other medications, very young pets, elderly pets or those with debilitating conditions can be at increased risk for reaction. Your veterinarian knows their health history and can guide you in your selection.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi . In dogs, Lyme disease does not begin to manifest for weeks to months after infection at which point signs of arthritis are noticed. Sometimes there is a fever. The symptoms of Lyme disease respond rapidly to an inexpensive course of appropriate antibiotics in this early phase.  However, these early signs can be subtle and easily overlooked by pet owners or interpreted as the dog just having a few “off days”.

In dogs, the most serious long-term potential regards glomerular disease. This is a type of kidney damage that occurs when the immune system is stimulated over a long time by a latent infectious organism (or other immune stimulus). Too often the signs of kidney damage go unnoticed until the dog is in kidney failure. Lyme disease vaccinations are available for dogs whose lifestyles put them at increased risk of exposure.

Anaplasmosis (formerly Ehrylichiosis Equi) is caused by Anaplasma phagocytophila an organism that infects white blood cells and causes a decrease in platelets. Without adequate numbers of platelets infected pets will begin to bleed. Because most blood loss occurs internally, and therefore is unseen, pets often are lethargic and weak and can succumb to anemia. At this phase of disease antibiotic therapy is effective. Anaplasmosis also has a chronic form leading to severe kidney damage and failure.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is caused by Rickettsia rickettsii. This organism attacks the cells that line blood vessels so any organ system can be involved. Early signs include fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. These are followed by lameness and evidence of bleeding such as bruising or a bloody discharge from the nose. Up to 1/3 of canines will demonstrate central nervous system signs that could include incoordination, paresis, seizures, stupor, or spinal pain. Antibiotics and, in severely anemic animals, blood transfusion are effective therapies.

The following recommendations can reduce your pet’s risk of exposure:

  1. Keep your pet away from long grass and brushy areas.
  2. Check your dog daily for ticks and remove them quickly. You should wear gloves and use a tweezer to remove the tick as close to the skin as possible.
  3. Use tick protection as recommended by your veterinarian.
  4. When hiking in the woods, stay on the middle of the path.
  5. Keep your lawn mowed short.
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