Integrative Pet Vet: How to help pets cope with tick season
Tick season in Colorado is early spring to early summer. These unsettling little creatures are often found in the woods, in grassy, brushy areas on the edge of fields and along commonly used trails.
According to Colorado State University Extension, more than 30 tick species live in Colorado. The Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni) is most common in our area. These ticks have four stages in their life cycle – egg, larva, nymph and adult. Completion of the life cycle requires that ticks feed on a mammal host at each of the three mobile stages.
The ticks drop off following a blood meal and mature to the next stage. In the early stages, they generally feed on small mammals like rodents. As they mature, they feed on larger mammals, and eventually as adults, encounter humans and their pets. It is during these feeding periods when the ticks can become infected with diseases like Colorado Tick Fever or ehrlichiosis.
In addition to the unpleasant prospects of finding ticks crawling on your pet or yourself, there is concern for transmission of certain diseases if the tick has been able to burrow into the skin and start feeding. Risk of disease is unclear because of difficulty in diagnosis and vague symptoms, but it appears that the risk is generally low in this region based on current data.
The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) provides forecast information by region based on ongoing studies of prevalence. However, it is important to note that the incidence is likely to increase as awareness and reporting improve. Toward this goal, Gov. John Hickenlooper recently proclaimed May 2017 to be Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Awareness month in Colorado.
During tick season, exposure to ticks can be minimized by avoiding areas that are likely to contain ticks, checking your pets for ticks after each outing and, in high-risk settings, using tick repellent products. When using tick repellents, make sure they are safe for your pet.
It takes approximately 12-24 hours after the tick is on your pet before feeding begins. This should give adequate time to look for ticks and remove them from your pet before they begin feeding. If the tick becomes attached, the best way to remove them is to grasp the tick firmly with blunt tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly. Once the tick has been removed, wash and disinfect the area as you would any wound. Wash your own hands thoroughly. Note that covering ticks with petroleum jelly or touching them with a match are not considered effective removal methods.
Diseases of concern for your pet according to CAPC include Lyme (Borrelia burgdorferi), ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. Some controversy exists regarding diseases like Lyme in Colorado because of the tick species implicated in its transmission. However, it is still valuable to minimize tick exposure and increase knowledge of these diseases.
The good news is that more than 90 percent of dogs exposed to Lyme do not become ill. Their immune systems appear to be able to successfully clear the infection. For those dogs that become ill, signs of illness may not develop until months after the tick bite. Signs of illness include fever, lameness that shifts between legs, swollen lymph nodes and joints, lethargy and loss of appetite. Signs of ehrlichiosis are also vague, and include fever, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss and bleeding disorders that can last two-four weeks.
It is important to keep in mind that information about the incidence of these diseases in Colorado continues to evolve and the true risk of infection is unknown. Therefore the best approach is to avoid areas that are common habitat for ticks, check your pet regularly for ticks during tick season and remove the ticks as soon as they are found.
Keep your pet’s immune system in optimal health by maintaining overall health especially with the digestive system. For example, a balanced intestinal microbiome has beneficial impact on the immune system (see previous article, Probiotics provide important benefits, Glenwood Post Independent 8-27-16).
If you have questions about ticks and tick-borne diseases in your pets, contact your veterinarian.
Ron Carsten, DVM, Ph.D., was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. In addition to his doctor of veterinary medicine, he holds a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.
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