Dog Owners, Beware: Ticks in Feeding Frenzy After Mild Winter
Vets warn pet owners that ticks are already thriving—and thirsty—after a warmer Illinois winter. Some docs are seeing a spike in canine patients with tick-borne illnesses. Is your pooch protected?
A particular, pesky arachnid is popping up and latching on earlier than ever this spring, and some veterinarians are ticked off.
After a mild winter, ticks are back in full force, preying on area canines. One local vet said he has seen more tick-infested dogs this spring than he has in 10 years of practice in the area.
"For the most part, ticks had been ignored," said Dr. Benjamin Welbourne, of Oak Forest Animal Clinic. "This season, we're already pulling a lot of ticks out of dogs."
Ticks are most prominent in spring and summer, and Welbourne said most years, ticks would drop out of sight by fall. But warmer temperatures kept them lingering and looking for a blood meal into December 2011.
This April, after a few months off, the ticks are emerging in balmy weather—showing themselves earlier than their usual late-April debut.
More frequent encounters don't necessarily mean a higher population, Welbourne said, just that as humans, canines and ticks enjoy the great outdoors, they're bound to run into each other. Ticks are most prevalent in forest preserves or other heavily wooded areas.
Some dogs are at higher risk for tick infestation, including those whose owners like them to tag along for long periods of time outdoors: fishermen, hunters, runners. Other dogs, whose greatest expeditions are to the corners of the yard, are still at risk, though slightly less so.
Deer ticks carry the risk of Lyme Disease and brown dog ticks are responsible for another illness appearing more recently, called Ehrlicia. Lyme Disease is more common and can be difficult to detect in dogs, as the symptoms mimic other illnesses. Dogs with Lyme Disease might display warm, swollen joints; signs of arthritis, unexplained fever and anemia as long as months after the initial bite.
Welbourne offered some tips on protecting your pooch—and the people who love them—from the burrowing arachnid.
Treat Ahead of Time
Purchase preventative products, such as Frontline, Revolution, Advantix, or the Preventic collar. For dogs defined as high-risk, back it up with Ovitrol, a spray used in small doses as additional protection. Revolution, Advantics, Preventic are available over the counter. Frontline requires a prescription.
While treatments are mostly effective, some ticks seem to "laugh" at the products and attach despite them, Welbourne said. However, ticks need 48 hours of feeding to infect prey with Lyme Disease. Most products—or a second dose—will effectively kill the tick or cause it to detach before the 48-hour period. If a pet owner finds a tick embedded, Welbourne recommends contacting your veterinarian.
Remove with Caution
If you find a tick on your dog (or cat, or other pet, or yourself) and it does not appear engorged, follow these tips to remove it safely.
- Use a tweezers to grip the tick near the head.
- Pull on the tick gently and slowly, as it might take some skin with it as it detaches. The entire tick needs to come out, and if it's latched on, it might hold tight.
- Do NOT squish, crush or break open the tick, as that will release Lyme Disease organisms into the air. While you can't catch Lyme Disease from your dog, you can catch it from the tick, Welbourne warned.
- Place the live tick in a jar with rubbing alcohol. The tick will suffocate.
To protect yourself:
- Wear protective clothing—ideally in a light color—along with a chemical repellent.
- Tuck pant legs into socks, and stay away from vegetation along trails.
When in Doubt, Call the Vet
If your animal is displaying symptoms of Lyme Disease, don't delay. Contact your vet to begin treatments immediately. Untreated, Lyme Disease can persist as a chronic illness.