When is tick season?
Late spring/early summer and fall.
What are the most common tick-borne diseases?
- Lyme – The most common tick-borne disease in the northern hemisphere. Named after a town called Lyme, CT where a lot of cases were discovered in 1975.
- Ehrlichia – There are two kinds of ehrlichiosis, both of which are caused by tick-borne rickettsial parasites called Ehrlichia that infect different kinds of white blood cells. In HME (human monocytic ehrlichiosis), they infect monocytes. In HGE (human granulocytic ehrlichiosis), they infect granulocytes. HGE was renamed anaplasmosis in 2003. Ticks carry many Ehrlichia-like parasites that have not been identified yet. It is likely that the lone star tick transmits HME and that the deer tick transmits HGE. Ehrlichiosis (HME) was originally thought to be only an animal disease. It was described in humans in 1987 and is now found in 30 states, predominately in the southeast, south-central, and mid-Atlantic states, Europe and Africa.
- Anaplasmosis – (HGE) in humans was first identified in 1990 in a Wisconsin man. Before that it was known to infect horses, sheep, cattle, dogs and cats. It occurs in the upper midwest, northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, northern California, and many parts of Europe. Studies suggest that in endemic areas as much as 15% to 36% of the population has been infected, though often it is not recognized.
The clinical manifestations of ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis are the same. Each is often characterized by sudden high fever, fatigue, muscle aches, headache. The disease can be mild or life-threatening. Severely ill patients can have low white blood cell count, low platelet count, anemia, elevated liver enzymes, kidney failure and respiratory insufficiency. Older people or people with immune suppression are more likely to require hospitalization. Deaths have occurred.
Diagnosis is limited by our current ability to test for only two species. Ehrlichia parasites multiply inside host cells, forming large mulberry-shaped clusters called morulae which doctors can sometimes see on blood smears. The infection still can easily be missed. The doctor may suspect ehrlichiosis/anaplasmosis in a patient who does not respond well to treatment for Lyme disease.
The treatment of choice for ehrlichiosis/anaplasmosis is doxycycline, with rifampin recommended in case of treatment failure.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can vary a lot, so if you think your dog might be sick, bring them in to see us. Our vets will decide whether we need to test them.
How can your pet get infected?
Your pet is infected when a tick carrying the disease bites them. The longer the tick is attached, the more likely your dog is to be infected. If the tick is attached for less than 24 hours, infection isn’t likely. Not all ticks carry diseases.
“It’s Tick Time!”
After thirteen years of hearing this phrase, Lucy knew the drill. She’d sit still as she was combed and plucked of these tiny pests each and every time she came in from her Lincoln, MA back yard. For some reason, Lucy was a tick magnet. Maybe because her little Yorki frame was so low to the ground, or maybe because her blood was as sweet as her face; regardless, tick removal was nothing new, it was simply a fact of life.
If you were to tell Lucy’s owner that a tick would eventually take the life of his dog, he would never believe it. A tick? Killing a dog? Sure, it may make them inappetent, maybe a little achy in the joints, but no one thinks of Lyme disease as a matter of life or death. Ask Lucy’s owner now, just one month after the loss of his companion to Lyme-borne renal failure, and he will attest with resolution that yes, even in rare cases, Lyme disease can have fatal consequences.
We live in what is called a Lyme-endemic area. Here in Massachusetts, it is the deer tick that carries Lyme disease. This nasty parasite can carry the disease its entire life without getting sick itself, just passing it from host to host. If an infected tick attaches to its host, it takes about 48 hours for the transmission of Lyme disease. Thus, immediate removal of ticks is important.
A flea comb is ideal for combing through a dog’s coat and picking up unattached ticks. Fine-pointed tweezers are good for the attached ones. Look between your dog’s toes as well as around the ears, face, mouth, tail, genitals, and armpits, where ticks tend to congregate. If you find a tick, remove it immediately. Ticks don’t drown, so have a cup of rubbing alcohol on hand to place them in, then flush them down the toilet. Try not to crush the tick because that could spread disease. If the tick is attached, use the tweezers to firmly pull it upward off of your pet’s skin.
Did you know there is a Lyme vaccine? The Lyme vaccine works by helping to block the transmission – from tick to dog – of the bacterium (or spirochete) that causes Lyme disease. “The composition of the Lyme vaccine has improved drastically since it first came out in 1990,” Woburn Animal Hospital’s Dr. Schless, VMD, explains. The early version of the vaccine used the intact dead spirochete in its constitution, which in certain cases actually caused Lyme disease! “The newer version is bioengineered and recombinant,” Dr. Schless continues. The spirochete lives in a shelled pocket in the tick, and must remain shelled to be transmitted. The Lyme vaccine disintegrates this shell, and the bacterium is released within the tick rather than within your dog. “The Lyme doesn’t even exit the tick,” Dr. Schless concludes.
Hands down, the best way to protect your dog from ticks is by regularly using a topical preventative like Frontline Plus. For 30 days, the preventative is distributed continuously through the hair follicles and repels any tick that comes in contact with the fur. Year-round preventative is recommended, as ticks survive the cold months, sometimes by moving indoors and closer to you and your pets. With spring finally upon us, peak tick season has begun.
Monthly topical tick preventative is the best way to fight the disgusting parasite. But missing even one month can have serious repercussions. This is presumably what happened in the case of little Lucy, the Yorki whose life was taken by Lyme. “Looking back,” Lucy’s owner reflected, “I would have been more vigilant about the Frontline applications. More specifically, I wouldn’t have trusted anyone else with this crucial task.” Sharing the responsibility of the family dog with other members of the household is generally a positive practice. But when it comes to parasite protection, a regular routine is neither casual nor optional.