Summertime Pet Care: Safe Tick Removal

by Bruce W. Little, DVM

SUMMERTIME AND THE LIVIN’ IS EASY

Ah, yes……..for some people and pets in many parts of the United States the summer of 2014 was a most welcome change after a record winter of snow and artic cold. We couldn’t wait to hit the bicycle and walking paths through the woods and the dog parks to help work off the extra pounds gained throughout the harsh winter. But wait, there may be some critters lurking on the hairy bodies of our beloved dogs and cats that have the potential to cause problems as we move into the latter months of warm weather. Caution: your pet may have been in contact with nasty external parasites that can not only cause irritation and discomfort, but bring disease to both you and your pet. Here is a brief overview of what could be a problem. Your veterinarian can determine if there is cause for alarm.

There seems to be an abundance of ticks this year, especially the blacklegged tick (commonly called the deer tick) who brings with its ugly bites the potential for several diseases that can effect both the pets and their human partners. These ticks are most prevalent in the upper Northeast and across the upper Midwest; however, they are present in all 50 states, more than likely due to the extensive mobility that has become common for American business and family travel. These blacklegged ticks are the vector that transmits Lyme disease to both pets and humans. Lyme borreliosis is caused by the agent, Borelia burgdorferi, and has been identified in as much as 30% of the tick population in highly infested parts of the country. These ticks can also be carriers of babesiosis, a malaria-like parasitic disease and an apparently emerging disease that causes anaplasmosis in humans has been identified in many of the studies done on the tick population. Anaplasmosis symptoms can include fever, headache, malaise muscle pain and chills. There are other less known diseases that travel through several species of ticks.

Check your pets for ticks every day. You may miss those that are bedded down in the coat of your dog or cat (yes, cats get ticks too) because those ticks that have not engorged with a blood meal are small and usually hard to find. However, the engorged tick is quite noticeable when you run your fingers over the surface of the skin of your pet. If you find a tick (engorged or not) remove it with a pair of tweezers. Be sure to dispose of the now extracted tick properly by burning it or otherwise incapacitating it thoroughly before completing the search for more parasites.

Take your pet to your veterinarian for a simple and very sensitive test for Lyme disease and two other tick borne diseases, as well as heartworms, a mosquito spread disease. Your veterinarian can also prescribe the best parasiticide to use in controlling ticks and other parasites that attack your pets in the summer months. She can prescribe for you either topical tick preventative that you squeeze from a tube onto the coat of the animal or a chewable product, both of which controls the adult ticks as well as the intermittent stages of the tick life cycle.

Another pest that comes with the warm days of summer are fleas. Fleas attack dogs and cats in enormous numbers in some parts of the U.S. in the later stages of the summer. Some dogs develop allergies to fleas that can cause extreme irritation and hair loss from scratching. The flea excretes a saliva when it bites which serves as an anticoagulant to allow blood to flow freely while feeding. Many dogs are allergic to this saliva and develop what is called “flea bite dermatitis.” These dogs must be taken to the veterinarian in order to diagnose and recommend the proper treatment to not only rid the dog of fleas, but to minimize the skin irritation so the dog will discontinue its incessant scratching. The veterinarian will differentiate between a “flea bite dermatitis” and an allergy due to seasonal allergies to plants and dust mites and offer the appropriate treatment.

Finally, mosquitos who as mentioned above transmit heartworm disease in dogs and West Nile Virus in humans, flies, gnats and ear mites all can cause health problems to your dog or cat. Some of these parasites can survive the harshest of winters, so consult your veterinarian for year around prevention from the irritation of these pests. Know what diseases and parasites prevail in your part of the country, and see your veterinarian at least annually to best protect your best friend from the stress and complications of pesky parasites and parasite carried diseases.