Lyme disease is a major concern for dogs in New York, where as many as 1 of every 11 dogs tested is positive for this tick-borne illness. Dogs are an excellent indicator of the prevalence of Lyme disease and help alert us to disease outbreaks in our area—important knowledge, since the condition also threatens humans. The Companion Animal Parasite Council predicts that incidents of Lyme disease will increase in three areas this year: the Appalachian region, Minnesota, and our home area, the Atlantic Coast. How can you protect your beloved pet from the increased threat of Lyme disease? Follow our tips to avoid a tick tragedy.
#1: Invest in high quality tick prevention for your pet.
Not all tick-prevention products are the same. Some products repel ticks and prevent bites, while others only kill a tick after it’s attached. If your pet is finicky about oral medications, a topical treatment or a collar is a better choice. Ensuring the product you choose is high quality and veterinary-approved is most important because, unfortunately, many over-the-counter products are ineffective and may cause harmful side effects. Cats are especially sensitive and can easily get sick from a lower quality tick preventive. Also, administering the preventive to your pet year-round is key to preventing illness in our high-risk area.
#2: Reduce your home’s appeal for ticks.
Lyme disease is spreading as wildlife and migratory birds carry ticks to new areas. While we may enjoy seeing the wildlife, limit their appeal for your yard and, in turn, decrease its tick appeal by keeping the grass mowed short, bushes trimmed, and tall weeds eliminated. Thickly wooded areas are also ideal for ticks, so, if possible, keep your pet out of parks or forests, and be sure to stay on hiking paths. You can take your outdoor tick defense one step further and hire a professional, but be sure the company uses a pet-friendly treatment, and you know when the yard is safe again for your pet.
#3: Check your pet for ticks and remove them correctly.
Since black-legged ticks must attach for approximately 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease, check your pet immediately after coming indoors. Ticks enjoy warm areas, such as the ears, abdomen, and armpits, but can be found anywhere on the body. Always wear gloves when removing attached ticks to avoid exposing yourself to diseases. Have someone hold your pet to keep her calm and still. Position your tweezers as close to your pet’s skin as possible without pinching the skin, and pull out the tick using steady pressure and a straight-back motion, to avoid squeezing or crushing the tick. As an easier alternative, stop by our office to purchase a ProTick Remedy—a simple tool that makes tick removal a cinch. After the tick has been removed, disinfect the bite wound and watch that it doesn’t become red or swollen.
#4: Vaccinate your pet against Lyme disease.
Lyme vaccinations are a second line of defense after proper tick prevention. If a Lyme-carrying tick bites your pet and remains attached long enough to transmit disease, vaccination should protect her. But, vaccines are never a 100% guarantee, so we recommend the double security of prevention and vaccination for at-risk pets. Unfortunately, no Lyme vaccine is available for cats, so prevention is vital. At this time, we typically recommend vaccination for high-risk dogs—those who frequent the woods or fields, or accompany you on hikes.
#5: Know your pet’s enemy.
Ixodes ticks, which are the only tick species that carry the Lyme bacterium, come in two varieties—Ixodes scapularis, the deer tick, and Ixodes pacificus, the western black-legged tick. Male black-legged ticks are dark brown to black, while the females are red-orange. Adult black-legged ticks are only three to four millimeters long. If your pet contracts Lyme disease, signs may not appear for two to five months after the tick bite. Always watch for the following signs:
Shore up your pet’s defenses against Lyme disease with appropriate prevention and the vaccine. Schedule an appointment for her Lyme vaccination, and stock up on tick prevention at the same time.