Sunday, August 26th is NATIONAL DOG DAY and in honor of our furry four-legged friends, we wanted to share some tips and tactics for keeping you and your pet safe.
Lyme disease is on the rise — the geographic range and prevalence of Lyme-carrying ticks have expanded significantly in recent years, potentially due to climate change as well as many other factors. Here on the West Coast, temperate conditions mean that Lyme disease is almost a year-round (versus seasonal) threat.
Black-legged ticks prefer shaded, moist ground and leaf litter, but they can also be found clinging to tall grasses, brush, and shrubs. Ticks also inhabit gardens and lawns, particularly at the edge of wooded areas, around stone walls, and anywhere deer and white-footed mice (their most common animal hosts) might travel.
It is almost impossible to completely prevent an outdoor pet (or a human) from any tick encounters, there is simply too much exposure to natural tick habitats just outside our back doors. That being said, there are many simple things you can do to help reduce the risk of Lyme disease for you and your pet. Here we share some tips and some answers to the most commonly asked questions.
Q: Can dogs get Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is caused by the spirochete bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted by the black-legged tick. Dogs certainly can come into contact with ticks and if not removed, ticks can transmit Lyme to their canine hosts. However, most dogs do not become symptomatic. Less than 10% of dogs infected with Lyme will actually experience disease symptoms. A dog may be infected with the spirochete but have no apparent Lyme symptoms at all. If a dog does get sick from Lyme, it is usually several months after the initial infection and it can generally be treated successfully with common antibiotics like Doxycycline
Q: What are the typical symptoms a dog with Lyme might experience?
Most dogs will not present symptoms even if infected with Lyme disease and dogs that are infected may not present symptoms for weeks or even months. Dogs suffering from Lyme are most likely to experience sudden lameness or inflammation in their joints. Some dogs will experience lethargy, loss of appetite or weight, swollen lymph nodes, or even fever. If your dog is suffering, do be sure to share your concerns with your vet. A simple blood test can be done to verify the infection. Lameness is generally temporary and most symptoms can be treated with antibiotics.
Q: How do I remove a tick?
Ticks that have not “attached” should come out fairly easily when brushing/combing your pet. Ticks that have already attached may be more difficult to remove and you want to remove them intact — do not crush, squeeze, or burn them. We like to remove ticks with a “tick key” removal device. You place the device on the skin with the key point where the tick is attached to the skin and slowly and steadily move the device to lift off the tick fully intact. Tickease tweezers are specially designed for the removal of ticks but you need to be careful not to decapitate the tick, leaving part of the parasite under the skin. The tick will not survive the decapitation but the pathogen can be transmitted by saliva released during the decapitation. You also want to be sure to squish the tick once removed, wash your hands thoroughly, and clean the bite area with alcohol, iodine or soap and water. Never remove the tick with your hands.
Q: Is there a vaccine? Is it effective?
There is a Lyme vaccine for animals but it is controversial. Infection is relatively rare, the treatment is generally effective for pets, and the vaccine does have the potential to be harmful to your pet. Typically, we reserve the vaccine for patients that are going to have extreme exposure to tick habitats, e.g., headed on family vacation on the east coast or known to regularly wander off leash in identified tick habitats, etc. Speak to your doctor if interested in learning more about the vaccine.
Q: My dog is being treated with a flea and tick repellent product, is that enough?
A lot of people are under the perception that the prescription flea and tick medication (sprays, collars, or topical treatments such as NexGard®, FRONTLINE®, K9 Advantix® II or Seresto® ) will keep ticks at bay. Unfortunately, while these repellents will help prevent the ticks from attaching or may kill them on contact, no flea or tick medication is a fool-proof barrier that will keep your pet entirely tick-free. It is important to regularly do tick-checks on your pet, especially if they have been in potential tick habitat areas, and to carefully remove any ticks you find. Unattached ticks can also pass to human family members, who are much more susceptible to Lyme disease.
Q: What if I don’t want to use chemical products. Are there naturopathic alternatives?
There are some dietary supplements and topical herbal treatments that can help reduce your pet’s exposure to ticks. You will want to discuss these treatments with your veterinarian. Some of the options include:
- Garlic or apple cider vinegar in their diet
- Herbal flee and tick powders or collars
- Citrus and eucalypus oil repellents
- Tick shampoo (made with palo santo oil and lavender)
- Diatomaceous earth (can be sprinkled on your pet and in and around your lawn)
Q: Can I get Lyme disease from my dog??
Lyme disease is transmitted by the tick, not your dog. However, your dog may be the vehicle by which the tick comes into proximity with you. A tick can easily travel into your home/bed/sofa on your dog and if not removed and properly disposed of, then travel to any unsuspecting family members in the home. Humans are much more likely to experience Lyme symptoms if infected.
Q: My dog has very thick fur. How can I be confident I have removed all the ticks?
Often a dog will be annoyed by the presence of a tick and you will notice him trying to scratch or bite the area. Ticks do like to hang out in warm areas such as the groin, ears, and feet; also often on the tail and around the eyes so be sure to check those areas carefully. If your dog has long or thick fur, you can try using a hair dryer on a low setting to help part the hairs allowing you to see better.
Q: I am constantly finding ticks on my dog, but I thought they were “dog ticks” not “black-legged ticks” … How can I be sure?
TickEncounter has an identification chart (nonflash version here) that delineates the most common forms of ticks you or your pet are likely to encounter. The chart shows examples of the ticks at all life stages. It is important to note that a tick must feed at every life stage, larval, nymph, and adult and the younger ticks can be as small as a poppy seed, making them very hard to identify or even discover. Dog ticks are generally larger than black-legged (or “deer ticks”) and have different coloring but again, that will vary by lifestage.Keep in mind that while only the black-legged tick carries Lyme disease, many ticks carry other illnesses which your dog may be susceptible to (Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, etc.) If you are uncertain, best to contact your veterinarian. You can always take a photo or hold onto the tick in a sealed ziploc bag for verification/to assist with diagnosis.
It may be helpful to consider the following tips to prevent tick (and other parasite) encounters in and around your home and keep your pets and family safe!
- Regularly brush/comb and bathe your pet, especially when exposed to potential tick habitat areas
- Be sure to regularly clean your pet’s bed cover in hot water and tumble dry at high heat
- Keep grass cut short. Remove brush piles and create a clear boundary around the perimeter of your lawn
- Vacuum sofas and carpets where your pet may lounge
- Consider other wildlife and pest control measures to reduce the likelihood of other tick vector hosts such as mice and deer from entering your home or yard
Happy National Dog Day!!