Author: Clarissa Noureddine, DVM, MS, MS
By now, it’s no surprise to pet owners that ticks are more than just irritating creepy crawlies. Ticks can also transmit a number of diseases to dogs, including things such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis. There are a variety of species of ticks. Identification of a tick species may narrow down which diseases the tick may be carrying. For example, Lyme disease is known to be transmitted by the black-legged tick (also called the deer tick). Of course, there will always be exceptions to the general trends; so another tick-borne disease may still be transmitted by a tick species not typically found to carry that disease.
It is also important to note that the life cycle of the tick can vary from one species to the next. So, depending on the tick species, ticks may go through the life cycle at different rates, and the ticks can be more or less active at different times of the year. The American dog tick and the Lone Star tick are not typically active in the fall and winter months. In contrast, the black-legged tick will remain active from fall to spring as long as the temperature is above freezing. Given the variability in weather transitions from year to year, it is nearly impossible to predict the exact beginning and ending to the season for a particular tick species. Furthermore, some tick species may move indoors during the winter (where they are in closer contact with humans and pets).
So what’s the good news?
Pet owners can implement multiple strategies to either prevent or minimize tick-borne illness problems in their dogs:
- Embrace the idea of utilizing tick prevention year-round (through a topical product, oral chews, or tick collar).
- Perform routine “tick checks” on your pet. Be sure to remove the tick safely by following these tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Implement yard control measures.
- Have your dog tested annually with the 4DX test. This test checks for heartworm disease, Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, and Ehrlichiosis. At Lawndale Veterinary Hospital, we do sometimes identify dogs who have been exposed to tick-borne disease(s) who are not exhibiting any signs of illness. Recognizing the dog has been exposed prompts us to have a conversation with the owner about additional diagnostic testing that can help us better understand whether that tick-borne illness is affecting their dog. Early treatment holds a better prognosis for successful outcomes.
- Have your pet examined whenever you notice any symptoms or concerns in your pet. Symptoms of tick-borne disease may include lethargy, fever, joint pain, joint swelling, limping, small areas of bruising on the skin, rash, neurological changes, to name a few.
- For at-risk dogs, consider the Lyme disease vaccine. How do you know whether your dog is at risk?
- First, consider the fact that Lyme disease is present in Guilford County. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) website, 1 in 43 dogs tested in 2018 have tested positive for Lyme disease. The rate was 1 in 44 in 2017. Remember that this data only reflects the number of dogs tested. Since many dogs may not have even been tested, the numbers could be much higher!
- Understand how your dog might be exposed to Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi.
- Black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks) are carriers of the Borrelia burgdorferi. The immature tick, or nymph, is often the stage that transmits Lyme disease to animals or humans.
- Since Nymphs are tiny (less than 2 mm), they are very hard to see and may be missed when owners are rubbing or performing tick checks on their pets
- Dogs are 50 to 100 times more likely to come into contact with ticks than humans
- If your dog goes outdoors, he or she can be exposed to ticks (even in the city!)
- Not all dogs who are exposed to Lyme disease will become sick. However, if your dog is one who becomes ill, Lyme disease can be a debilitating and potentially life-threatening disease.
We encourage you to talk with our team if you have questions about tick-borne diseases or the Lyme vaccination for your dog!
- Tick Encounter
- Companion Animal Parasite Council’s Pets and Parasites website for pet owners
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Lyme Information