We have been spoiled with some absolutely gorgeous weather this fall, and I know a lot of people have taken advantage of it to get outside, often with their dogs, and enjoy it. I know I have. Unfortunately, tick season is still in full swing. Even though it’s gotten a bit colder, those little guys are still out and active. And remember– ticks are hardy little bloodsucking parasites. Even when there is snow on the ground, if there is a warm day, they will be out looking for warm bodies to attach to. I know I’ve found plenty of ticks on my dogs after a hike on a mild January day. It’s like it never ends!
Ticks love bushes and overgrowth, long grasses, weeds. They hang out there and wait for a tempting target, then hop on and enjoy the ride. This is gross enough, especially when they bite and attach themselves to your dog (or you), but ticks can carry some nasty diseases such as Lyme and Anaplasmosis. These diseases seem to be especially prevalent in the Mt. Gretna and Cornwall areas, so if you live or hike there, be especially aware. Be sure to check yourself and your pets thoroughly after being outside. And remember, ticks can be absolutely tiny.
What if you find a tick?
There are lots of old-school recommendations on how to remove a tick that include burning it with a match or smothering it in Vaseline. Please do not do either of these things! You risk stressing the bug and causing it to regurgitate all the nasties in its stomach into you or your dog. This is how disease is transmitted, so you want to avoid this when at all possible. Instead, invest in one of the inexpensive tick-removing gadgets such as a tick twister (which we sell here), or a tick spoon. You can also use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick and gently pull straight out to remove it. Do not panic if the head gets left behind. It is not ideal, but the body will push it out in time. Just keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get infected or yucky. Sometimes skin tags and moles can look an awful lot like ticks, but only ticks have legs!
After the straight-forward tick-check method of prevention, your next line of defense is the tick-preventative spot-on or oral treatment. For years this has been the role of Frontline Plus, a topical flea and tick medication that kills ticks when the pesticide penetrates their thick shells. In recent years there have been a whole host of other products introduced, but as most of them are toxic to cats, we have stuck with our tried and true Frontline.
This Spring, however, we introduced something completely different– an oral flea AND tick medication that comes in a flavored chewable tablet and lasts for a month. This product is called Nexgard, and we love it. It should not be used in dogs with a history of seizures, and the key difference is that it does require the bug to bite the animal and feed on it in order to be killed, but you are not left with that disgusting greasy spot on your dog’s back, frequent bathing or swimming has no effect on it, and it seems to be very effective at killing off bugs.
Last but not least, we do offer the Lyme vaccine for dogs who are in areas with a large amount of Lyme (again, Mt. Gretna and Cornwall– we’re looking at you). The Lyme vaccine should never ever replace regular tick-checks or a tick-preventative medication, but since we know that no product is perfect, that the tiny deer ticks that pass Lyme to your dog can be very hard to find on a fluffy pooch, and that sometimes maybe we don’t reapply on exactly a monthly schedule, this is something we encourage for dogs in high risk areas.
The problem with the Lyme vaccine is that it can give a little bit of a false sense of security. Lyme disease is so well-known these days, but ticks in this area can carry a host of other diseases, which are not prevented by the Lyme vaccine. Anaplasmosis is the most common, and it can lead to a pretty sick dog, just as Lyme can. So you always always want to use the vaccine as a backup plan, not as a primary method of defense.
Hopefully this post clears up some of the confusion that might be out there about ticks in this area, how to keep them off your dog, and what diseases they carry. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, whether general or specifically about your pet, give us a call during regular office hours at 665-2338 and someone will be happy to help you figure out the best option for your own pets.