Don't get Ticked Off!
Updated: Jun 17, 2022
Time for everyone's favorite topic --- ticks! No? Okay, I agree that while ticks can be fascinating to study, nobody likes to find one on themselves or their furry friends. Over the past two years we've had some pretty mild winters, and while this may seem nice for those who don't like the cold, it also means that more ticks are surviving through the winter and resulting in even more ticks being present each spring. Unfortunately, not only do we have a greater number of ticks present, but more ticks are infected with diseases that can be transmitted to our pets (and us).
In 2019, a study was conducted by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES), in conjunction with the CDC, to collect and study ticks in areas throughout Connecticut. Between the summer and fall, the team collected 2,500 ticks. Of the ticks collected, around 17% were dog ticks, but the majority (around 83%), were deer ticks. Out of the deer ticks, 46% were found to be carrying Lyme disease and 9% were carrying Anaplasma. Yikes!
Are you ready to protect your pets (and yourself)? Let's learn more so we don't have to get ticked off ;-)
THE TICKS AROUND US
Ticks have adapted amazingly well to our current environment - they live on one host (one animal that they attach to for a meal) and then transfer to another host. Each time they move on to another host provides an opportunity for diseases to spread. I know that many of you are familiar with deer ticks that spread Lyme disease, but they're not the only type of ticks around, and Lyme isn't the only disease they can spread. Here are the three major tick players in our neighborhood:
Ticks Pictured (Left to Right): Deer Tick Larva, Nymph, Adult Male, Adult Female; American Dog Tick Adult Female and Adult Male (Picture from MN Dept of Health)
1. Deer Tick - Ixodes scapularis
Seasonality: Summer (nymphs) and Fall/Winter (adults)
Pet Concerns: While these ticks prefer mice and deer, dogs can be host to both the nymph stage (only 2mm in size!) and adult stage, both of which are able to transmit disease.
Diseases Transmitted: Lyme disease & Anaplasmosis
2. Brown Dog Tick - Rhipicephalus sanguineous
Seasonality: All year long
Pet Concerns: These ticks can spend their entire lives on dogs. Did you know that a single adult dog tick can lay over 7,000 eggs? Yuck! Sadly (or not) the adult tick dies after laying the eggs, but when the babies hatch they start looking for a host... a dog... to feast on until they grow up and the cycle continues.
Diseases Transmitted: Ehrlichia, Babesia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
3. American Dog Tick - Dermacentor variabilis
Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall
Pet Concerns: These ticks can take up to 2 years to complete a life cycle, and your dog can be host to the adult ticks.
Diseases Transmitted: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
TESTING FOR TICK-BORNE DISEASES
We won't get into the details about each of the diseases these ticks can transmit in this blog, but we do test for many of the diseases annually in dogs. Each year we recommend running an in-house rapid test on our canine patients, which checks for heartworms as well as common tickborne diseases. The test that I use is called a 4DX Plus Snap Test: "4" is the number of diseases it can detect, "DX" is medical shorthand for diagnosis and "snap" is the sound the test makes when it's activated. Using just 3 drops of blood, this test checks for exposure to heartworms, Lyme disease, Ehrlichia and Anaplasma. That's a lot of information in just 8 minutes (and it's run during the appointment, so you have the results before the end of the visit!). It's not only a great screening test for diseases (the earlier we catch them, the easier they are to treat), but it also lets us know how well our preventatives are working.
Now for the real reason you're reading this blog... figuring out how to prevent tickborne diseases.
There are 3 main classes of tick preventatives available - collars, topicals and oral tablets. The most important recommendations I can make is to use them all year long - 365 days a year. These last few years have shown us that the ticks aren't going away for the whole winter, and we're seeing more pets becoming infected between November and March. Each class of preventative has its own considerations, and the one you pick depends on what you determine is best for your family. (Also remember that dogs that are NOT on prevention can pick up ticks and bring them inside your house. The ticks can then drop off your pet and attach onto you instead).
This is the newest group of preventatives - the isoxazoline class (it's a mouthful, which is why they're referred to as the oral preventatives). Administered either once each month or every 3 months, these chewable tablets provide excellent flea and tick prevention. The downside of these medications are that the fleas and ticks have to bite your pet to be killed, though they are killed before they have the chance to transmit any diseases. This means that you may occasionally find a dead tick attached to your pet, but it should NOT be engorged (full of blood). The benefit of these medications are that they are not affected by bathing or swimming like topicals and collars are and they are very easy to administer, with no odor and no risk of your kids or other pets coming into contact with the medication. These are prescription products, and the ones I recommend are Bravecto (given once a month for growing puppies, then extending to once every 3 months when your pup gets big enough) or Simparica (given every month). There are currently no good oral flea and tick preventatives for cats on the market (yet), though there are some products that protect against fleas only (such as Comfortis, given monthly).
One concern that has been brought up with this class of medications is the possibility of seizures. Just like any medication, including topical products, there is always the possibility of a reaction. I have never personally had a pet develop seizures from any of these oral preventatives, but this is certainly something that can be discussed during your appointment and we can address any concerns you may have.
Preventative collars have come a long way in terms of efficacy (how well they work) in the recent years. The biggest problem that I encounter is that the collars are applied too loosely. You MUST be sure to read the application instructions when placing the collar on your dog or cat. Typically you want a snug fit, with 2 fingers being able to fit between the collar and neck. The collar must rub against the skin to release the preventative and keep the fleas and ticks from biting your pets. You also need to use caution if you have a dog with a thick undercoat - these collars will not be as effective if they cannot reach the skin. If you choose to use a collar, the ONLY one that I recommend is the Seresto collar for dogs or cats, which needs to be replaced every 8 months. **A word of caution - these collars should ONLY be purchased from your veterinarian or a reputable dealer. Due to how well these collars work there are a LOT of fake versions on the marker (especially from Amazon and Wish, but also from other online pharmacies) and trust me when I say that they do not work and have a MUCH higher rate of reactions than the real collars.
**Update, March 2021: A recent article came out that raised concerns over the safety of these collars. It's important to understand that the medications in these collars are NOT absorbed into the blood stream and only stay in the oil glands on the skin, and the rate of reactions is very low when a genuine collar is purchased directly from your veterinarian. Of course, these concerns can all be discussed during your visit as we find the best preventative for your pet.
These are drops that get applied directly to the skin. With the exception of Revolution and Bravecto topicals (which get absorbed into the body), this class of preventatives stay on the skin and distribute themselves in the oil glands to provide full protection. For this reason it is important that you do NOT bathe your pet within 48 hours of applying the topical drops (since shampoos will remove the oils from the skin, and therefore the preventatives won't distribute appropriately). You also need to make sure that you use caution and take care NOT to apply a product designed for dogs onto your cat. Some of these dog products contain pyrethrins that are toxic to cats (if you realize you have applied the wrong product by mistake, contact your veterinarian or the pet poison hotline and bathe your cat in Dawn dish soap to remove as much of the product as possible). If you choose to use topical drops, the ones I recommend are Bravecto Topical (applied every 3 months), Vectra 3D (applied monthly) or K9 Advantix II (applied monthly) for dogs, and Bravecto Plus (applied every 2-3 months), Revolution Plus (applied monthly) or Advantage II (applied monthly) for cats. It's important to note that Bravecto Plus and Revolution Plus for cats have added intestinal parasite and heartworm protection, which is a great benefit for cats that venture outdoors.
I know this can all be overwhelming, but being informed will help you make the best decision for your family. Don't worry - I'll be happy to answer any questions you have during your appointment.
:-) Dr. Johnson