Warning: Ticks are a dangerous threat to your health…

 

Ticks are some of the most repulsive and yet fascinating creatures in our environment.

Ticks

If you stop right now, look out your window and strain your eyes, you likely will not see a single one.  But trust me, they are definitely present if you:

  • Own a pet (especially a dog)
  • Sometimes see deer in your neighborhood
  • Live near wooded or weedy areas

Ticks pose serious dangers to your pets and your family.  Awareness of those dangerous threats is the first step in protecting your family from tick-borne diseases.

Don’t let all the hype about Zika virus cause you to overlook this more imminent threat.

One of the most frustrating challenges for me as a practicing veterinarian was a canine patient landing on my exam table carrying huge numbers of ticks.  Those unsuspecting dogs literally “dripped” ticks on the floor and examination table with every movement of their body.  The happy, frisky tail-wagging pets not only dripped ticks, they “flipped” them far and wide as well.  You can imagine the staggering task of locating and eliminating them from the hospital.

Ticks in dog's ear

Each of those “tick dripping” dogs was on course for severe anemia caused by the sheer number of blood-sucking parasites.  The reason for anemia in those cases is self-evident and easy to understand.  It’s the real potential for infectious and zoonotic diseases that requires more education and understanding.  No one is more qualified to help you become educated about ticks than your local veterinarian.  Take advantage of their knowledge if you own a dog or a cat.

Most people understand that ticks suck blood from their host. Victims can include deer and other wild animals, pets in the neighborhood and, of course YOU and YOUR KIDS.

But did you know that when a tick sucks out blood, it then regurgitates a dark sludge back into the host’s body? That sludge is what’s left over after the tick’s body has removed proteins from the blood. The sludge becomes the transporter of infectious agents.

The male tick switches frequently from host to host looking for female ticks, happily feeding on and regurgitating into each of those hosts.  You may want to become familiar with a list of diseases transmitted by ticks. Some of the more common ones include:

  • Each of those diseases presents both diagnostic and treatment challenges for humans as well as pets.

Single tick

tick (Photo credit: John Carleton)

The best treatment is always prevention of tick bites! The good news is that there are a lot of steps you can take to protect your pets, yourself, and your family from the dangers posed by these ever-present parasites.  That’s right, ever-present.  First of all, there is no month in a calendar year, which can be considered a “tick free month”.

There are a couple of tick facts that cause confusion about their significance.

One is the different species of ticks and the dangers posed by each species. The other is the fact that seasonal high prevalence within an environment varies with the different species present.  And, for reasons not fully understood, “tick storms” occur from time to time when incredible numbers of ticks burst on the scene in brushy wooded areas.

If you own a pet (yes, ticks do feed on cats, too), visit your veterinarian and follow his recommendations for killing and repelling ticks when your furry friend comes in contact with these parasites.  The very best products available today are about 95% effective.  So, you may also consider fencing areas with trees and underbrush in your yard, thereby reducing exposure to ticks.

Whether you own a pet or not, protect yourself and children when outdoors by applying insect repellants containing Deet.  Doing so could prevent a lifetime of health issues as in the case of Lyme disease.  Yes, Lyme disease is most prevalent in the northeastern USA where the deer tick is most common.  However, the disease is spreading into new areas every year. And, in our highly mobile society it can be a threat in any location.

 Lyme Dz Risk Map

English: National Lyme disease risk map with 4 categories of risk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a neat and helpful website where you can access all sorts of information about ticks and other parasites. There you’ll discover more steps to take in protecting your family while enjoying pets and playing or working outdoors.  Also, learn even more by clicking on the highlighted words within the post!

If you know someone who likes hunting, fishing, picnicking, hiking, gardening, or owns a pet, feel free to share this article.

And, if you’re a veterinarian or other animal healthcare professional, I’d love to connect on LinkedIn