Time to Frolic! Time for Ticks

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Winter? What was that? It’s time for spring and summer. Time to frolic in the meadow, run through the forest, walk down the Mall. And therefore it is tick-time once again.

Ticks are ever-present in the mid-Atlantic. During warmer winter periods, they will be out “questing,” looking for their next meal. They also will produce many eggs, with thousands of millimeter-sized nymphs, each looking to feed as well. These nymphs, barely the size of a poppy seed, are responsible for many infections; the reason being is that they go unnoticed by the pet and their humans.

Reservoirs for ticks include the ever-present white-tailed deer, but mice are an even bigger host of these dangerous arachnids.

What makes ticks so efficient at carrying diseases is that they firmly attach to the skin of an animal and feed slowly, over the course of several days. This length of time allows bacteria within the tick’s saliva to enter the unsuspecting animal.

Common ticks in the Mid-Atlantic include the blacklegged, lone star, American dog, and Asian longhorn tick. A host of diseases are transmitted by ticks, but the most common for dogs in our area include Lyme, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis. These diseases are certainly not alone as Rock Mountain Spotted Fever and several Rickettsial diseases can be present as well.

The most known tick-borne disease is Lyme disease, whose namesake is Old Lyme, Connecticut. The causative agent is Borellia burgdorferi and can cause lethargy, joint pain, and even kidney failure. Clinical problems caused by Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis are similar and can also be quite serious and may include fever, muscle pain, poor appetite, and even clotting problems.

The saving grace for dogs (and humans) is the length of time it takes for a biting tick to transfer infections to the host animal. For many diseases, the tick must be attached and feeding for at least a day. If you are a human, hopefully you will have washed off and noticed any ticks, but if you are a dog, you’d best be on a decent tick preventive.

Most tick preventives, paired with a flea preventive, don’t repel ticks; they kill them rapidly once the tick bites a dog. There are four main modalities of preventives: spray, collar, topical, and oral. Overall the easiest method is a once-monthly oral preventive. Sarolaner, the active ingredient in Simparica, a product made by Zoetis, is very effective at preventing the transmission of tick-borne disease. It starts to kill ticks within hours and usually all ticks are dead within the day. Several other brands of oral and topical prevention also contain a drug from the same class as sarolaner.

Sarolaner is harmless to the dog, but some dogs may be sensitive and develop a tremor shortly after ingesting sarolaner. Usually the tremors resolve without intervention and there’s no lasting long-term harm to the dog.

It is not recommended to combine topicals with orals or collars. The oral medication alone should be sufficient to prevent most tick-borne infections. Of course inspecting your dog routinely, especially after a romp in the woods or tall grass is essential.

Dr. Teich is the medical director for District Veterinary Hospitals in Navy Yard, Eastern Market and Brookland. Visit www.districtvet.com for more information.