Spring temperatures and melting snow mean that more of us (and our pets) are outside and enjoying the great outdoors. The above-freezing temps also mean that another creature is out seeking hosts…ticks. We’ve all seen them, and some tick bites can transmit pathogens that cause dangerous diseases for our furry family members. Fortunately, we are here to help and there are several precautions that you can take to reduce your risk and be able to enjoy the seasons ahead, without worrying about those pesky bugs getting the best of your dog. Let’s take a closer look at some of the risks, and some ways you can protect yourself, and your best friends.
Ticks: The Who
Ticks are small eight-legged creatures that are part of the arachnid family. They are extremely resilient and can survive in most environments. Some ticks can live for years without eating and wake up from a dormant state when something warm-blooded is nearby. Ticks survive on the blood of other animals and can spread deadly diseases when they bite their prey. All ticks can spread diseases, but the following are usually responsible for spreading diseases in the US:
- Black-legged Tick (Deer Tick)
- Deer Ticks are found throughout most of the wooded parts of the state. Adults are most active in the spring and early fall, and nymphs (immature ticks) are most active from mid-May through mid-July.
- On average, about 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 5 nymphs are infected with Lyme disease bacteria
- Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
- Lone Star Tick
- Gulf Coast Tick
- Dog Tick
- American Dog Ticks (wood ticks) are found in grassy, more open habitats and woods throughout Minnesota. Adults are most active in the spring and early summer.
Our dogs can pick up ticks from just about anywhere, including the yard. Ticks tend to live close to the ground in wet, shady areas. Bushes and tree lines are perfect places for ticks to hide while they wait for an unsuspecting host to walk by.
Tick-Borne Diseases: The What
Lyme Disease: the most common disease carried by ticks. It is caused by Borrelia, which is a blood-borne bacteria. Lyme disease is typically spread by the black-legged tick (deer tick) and is very common here in the northern part of Minnesota.
Clinical signs of Lyme disease in dogs include:
- Joint swelling and pain
- Kidney disease
Anaplasmosis: caused by the bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum, and it is spread by black-legged ticks (deer ticks). Once bitten, a tick must stay attached for 24-48 hours to transmit the bacteria. After that, it takes 1-2 weeks for clinical signs of anaplasmosis to occur.
Clinical signs of Anaplasmosis include:
- Decreased appetite
Other signs could include lameness, vomiting, diarrhea, or in rare circumstances, bleeding from the nose, neck pain, and seizures. Some dogs exposed to anaplasmosis may never develop any clinical signs, or the signs may be vague and non-specific.
Canine Ehrlichiosis: many species of ticks can carry and spread canine ehrlichiosis. Early diagnosis and treatment will likely lead to a good outcome with this disease. However, if it is not treated quickly, the disease can be life-threatening.
Clinical signs of this disease in a dog are:
- Low blood platelets
- Nose bleeds
Unfortunately, it can take several weeks before clinical signs appear, making it difficult to quickly seek out treatment.
Testing for tick-borne illnesses: The How
Pets will produce testable antibodies to different tick-borne diseases between three and eight weeks after exposure (this window is dependent on the infectious organism). Here at Bemidji Veterinary Hospital, we use a snap test called a 4DX. This quick blood test checks for exposure to the 3 diseases mentioned above as well as heartworm infection. In some cases, our doctors will recommend a more advanced serology test, which is used to test for rising antibody titers. Rising antibody levels can indicate an active infection that warrants treatment. We recommend testing your pet annually to catch infections early, along with closely monitoring for any signs of change in your pet’s clinical symptoms if a positive test arises.
Prevention: The Why
The best way to keep ticks off your dogs is with monthly flea and tick preventatives given year-round. Preventative tick medications may not stop a tick from biting, but they will kill the tick and cause it to drop off. Ticks are less likely to spread diseases if they are quickly removed. Other ways to prevent and protect against tick-borne diseases include:
- Backyard management (keep lawns cut short, remove leaf piles, etc.)
- Routine tick checks
- Prompt removal of ticks
- Avoid high-risk areas (wooded areas with a dense understory, tall grass, and leaf litter)
In order for a tick to transmit disease to your pet, the ticks need to stay attached for over 24 hours. If your pet is on an oral tick preventive medication, or you removed the tick within 24 hours of when your pet got the tick, you probably don’t need to worry about tick-borne disease.
Unfortunately, we live in a part of the country with a very high prevalence of tick-borne diseases. It is important to speak to your veterinarian about what is recommended to keep your pets safe year-round. Keep in mind that there is a difference in the level of protection by over-the-counter products vs prescription strength preventatives.
Our doctors are always willing to help guide you in finding the best protocol for your pet when it comes to protection and prevention of tick-borne diseases. A good time to discuss options is at your pet’s annual wellness exam. Give us a call today if you need more information or have questions or concerns about tick prevention or possible exposure to disease. Our Veterinarians can provide you with the care and expertise you need to fight the battle against ticks and enjoy the great outdoors this spring and summer!
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