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Posted on 03-23-2012

Those of you that have been into the office, know that both Dr. Spar and I are avid outdoors, endurance athlete type guys.  So, it should come as no surprise that we get a fair amount of our information from, let us say, non veterinary channels.  Dr. Spar sent this link to me via my twitter feed (@knvet) He meant it as a warning to me as I have been enjoying the spring weather on some trails in the area, but it got me thinking, what about all of the dogs that I see out there?

While this mild winter has been a boon to triathlon training, it has also done little to decrease the population of insect vectors of disease in our area.  Usually a cold hard freeze will decrease the population of these critters and make the great outdoors a little safer for our pets, but not this year.  Lucky for you, Dr. Spar reminded me (lucky for me I guess as well) of the risk that waits in the scrub out there.  Lucky as well, I was able to find all sorts of disgusting pictures of today's featured bug, the TICK.

Let's talk about ticks in general.  First there are some myths.  They don't burrow into the body and and disappear into the dog. You shouldn't try to burn them off with a match, I've seen too many dogs with singed hair, and worse because their owners inadvertently set them on fire. Don't soak your pet in motor oil, it might drown the tick and it might poison your pet.  They don't fly, they don't jump, they just live in the shrubs and grasses and wait for an unsuspecting victim to wander by.

deer tick 4_1.jpg

I'll use this picture of the deer tick to illustrate several points.  First, there are 4 stages to the life cycle.  Each needs a host, it climbs on board and takes a blood meal.  It engorges, drops off, and molts to the next life stage. (This dropping off is probably the origin of the burrowing into the skin myth).  This life cycle takes two to three years to complete, depending on the tick species.  Deer ticks like the one pictured above are a two year tick.  Here's the problem, this time of year, we are seeing larval ticks.  That picture is double actual size, so guess what?  You'll never see the larva on your pet.  I've had pets present with "pepper" sprinkled in the coat.  The pepper was thousands of deer tick larva, all potentially carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease.

Not all ticks are so tiny, and not all ticks carry Lyme disease.  The dog tick is actually more common, larger, and more disgusting than the deer tick.

dog_tick_engorged.jpg See, here's an engorged dog tick.  This is what most people see on their pet.  Nymphs can be found this time of year adults later in the season, but they are all big enough to see easily.  They don't carry Lyme disease but they can carry a variety of diseases such as Ehrlichia, Anaplasma, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  These diseases are not only contagious to dogs, but to us as well.

So if they are everywhere and there are more of them this year than in years past what can we do?  Well first, we recommend that all dogs get tested for Tick Borne Diseases annually.  We do this in our office with a simple blood test that we do with the same drop of blood that we use to test for heartworm disease. Second, dogs that test positive need to be followed up, because many of them will require some sort of treatment.  Positive dogs and dogs at risk for tick exposure (positive dogs are at risk by definition) should be vaccinated against Lyme Disease. They also need to be on some sort of tick preventative.(This would be third if you are keeping count)  There are several options and we will be glad to discuss them with you.  There are a couple of excellent collars as well as some very safe and effective topical products available.  There are also some very unsafe and not so effective products available out there so please, don't just grab something off the shelf at a big box store because it looks like a product that you think that you might have used in the past.

Amblyomma_americanum_tick.jpg Oh, and here is a picture of our newest problem in the tick borne disease arena.  This monster is the Lone Star Tick.  I used to think that it was called that because it was found in Texas, but now I believe that is not the case and it is the distinct, single light marking on it's back.  These ticks are very aggressive feeders and spread disease as well.  We didn't have them in this area (they were all in Texas infecting the Dallas Cowboys) until recently.  This darned warm weather, the storm patterns, and adoptions of rescue dogs from the south, have all conspired to bring them to our fair neck of the woods.  I took a couple off of dogs last year, and expect to see more this year.  The same tick control products that work on other species will work on these as well.  

Now that you are totally grossed out, I'll leave you to your outdoor sports.  Remember to take the advice in the initial link to protect yourself.  While you're at it, take a moment to stop by your veterinarian's office and protect your pets as well.  And not just the dogs, cats can get ticks too. 

DawgBlogger said:

So even engorged deek tick larva cannot really be seen? The larva feeds once and then drops off? How does the larva get the Lyme disease in it?

2012-03-24 13:26:04

Keith Niesenbaum said:

They're really tough to see. Really look almost like pepper grains. In people, what we usually see is the rash, but the hair coat obscures that in most dogs. Here it is definitely a case of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

2012-03-24 15:01:49

Roque said:

I would suggest puttnig money ONTO your account at your clinic as a safety net, that way if you need food or medical care for them the money is already there ready for you in case of an emergency. Next time your in for something ask if you can put an additional $20 dollars (or whatever you have available) on there, i know my vet clinic allows it, maybe yours does too. Dr. Niesenbaum replies: This sort of layaway is certainly doable at our hospital. We actually have a monthly payment plan for wellness care to help defray the costs of vaccines and regular testing. Another option is to open a savings account dedicated to your pets medical care and make a deposit into it every month.

2012-06-10 04:26:33

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