When including your canine companions in travel plans during the holidays, be alert that there still are tick-borne illnesses out there, including Lyme disease.
With the unseasonably mild climate, ticks still are present in high numbers and therefore continue to present a threat since dogs are spending so much time outdoors.
Usually, during the winter months, the overall tick population drops, but this is not the case for deer ticks, the culprit of Lyme disease. Deer ticks continue to be active through the winter, as long as the ground is not frozen or covered with snow.
Dr. Roger Kuntz, doctor of veterinary medicine at Chili Animal Care, said he has seen an increase in the incidence of dogs with Lyme disease during the last few years.
“Previously, when a dog tested positive for Lyme disease, it was because the family had traveled outside of this area to more wooded destinations,” Kuntz said. “Now, we see dozens of cases a year of ‘home grown’ infections, meaning the dog has not left the immediate area but has still contracted the disease.”
That translates to one in every 17 dogs tested in Monroe County; and 6.72 percent of dogs in the state.
While most of these dogs will never show symptoms, for those that do, Lyme disease can be a difficult, painful problem to treat.
Is it OK to travel with Fido this holiday season? Yes, but experts recommend these seven tips for preventing and removing ticks from your pet:
#1. Use preventative medication on a monthly basis year-round to prevent problems before they start.
#2 Use care when walking in wooded areas and try to stick to the center of trails. Avoid tall grass and bushy areas with overgrowth where ticks are likely to hide. Keep lawns mowed and bushes and shrubbery cut back.
#3 Check yourself and your pet when you come back inside by thoroughly examining and feeling your skin and your pet’s fur. Check behind your pet’s ears, between his toes, under his armpits, and in the fur under his belly, all good hiding places.
#4 If you see a tick that is still moving, carefully remove it by hand or with a tweezers or specially designed tick extractor and dispose of it by placing it in rubbing alcohol in a closed container. Have your vet determine the type of tick you have found in order to watch your dog for corresponding symptoms.
#5 If the tick has already embedded, with your hands wearing rubber gloves, use a fine-tipped tweezers or a tick extractor tool to pull the tick straight out, without squeezing in order to remove the entire head and leave the body fluids intact and remove.
#6 Clean the area with rubbing alcohol and apply antibacterial ointment.
#7 Monitor your pet and yourself for any symptoms.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
Dr. Bruce G. Kornreich, associate director of Cornell Feline Health Center, stressed that although documented cases of cats getting Lyme disease have been sparsely reported, cat owners should monitor their felines and ensure they don’t develop symptoms.
In dogs, Lyme disease is less problematic, causing symptoms in only 5 to 10 percent of those affected.
Symptoms can include lameness, lethargy, severe joint pain, decreased appetite, depression, and kidney issues. Lyme disease is diagnosed by a blood test, which also tests for the presence of heartworms.
If a dog tests positive for any tick-borne diseases, further blood work and urine tests may be warranted to check for kidney involvement.
Research has shown that cats are far more resistant to Lyme disease, but pet owners should also watch their cats for any of the same types of symptoms.
“Even if an infected tick attaches to a person or a dog, if removed within 24 hours, the likelihood of getting full blown Lyme disease decreases,” Kornreich said.
Having a vet or lab test the tick once it is removed is a good idea to check for the presence of the infection.
“Once on a course of antibiotics, symptoms of Lyme disease should decrease,” Kornreich said. “However, since there is no immunity to getting Lyme disease again, ongoing preventative measures and continual vigilance are both vitally important.”
An ounce of prevention
Kornreich explains that increases in Lyme disease in both people and dogs is a numbers game due to an increase in the population of ticks during the last several years.
A combination of factors including climate change, the way land is being used and an increased resistance to pesticides are to blame.
“Prevention is far easier and more practical than treatment,” said Dr. Kuntz.
One of the top tick prevention medications recommended by veterinarians is K9 Advantix II, a monthly preventative for dogs that offers comprehensive protection against ticks, fleas, mosquitoes, biting flies and chewing lice. But this product is not safe for cats. A vaccination for canine Lyme disease is available but with only a 70 percent efficacy, is not the best option.
And there are area pet stores that can help.
Torrell Arnold, a manager from PetSaver Healthy Pet Superstore, lists a variety of preventative products for fleas and ticks.
Monthly topical medications and the Seresto tick collar made by Bayer, which can last up to 8 months, are both good bets for pet owners.
“Prevention is essential as the weather gets colder since deer ticks are seeking warm bodies to attach to,” Arnold said.
Natural preventative alternatives include placing cedar wood chips in and near dog beds and spraying cedar wood oil around the home. The scent of cedar wood repels most fleas and ticks although this method is not as consistently effective as chemical medications. Dogs younger than 8 weeks old should not be treated with any tick medications.
Since several preventative medications exist, pet owners should consult their veterinarian for the best course of action for their pet.
Where it came from
Named for the Connecticut town of Old Lyme where the disease was first seen, Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the world. The disease is spread by infected deer ticks attaching to and biting warm-blooded beings, such as humans and dogs.
Deer ticks are found primarily in heavily wooded areas frequented by the deer population, making humans and canines particularly vulnerable during outdoor activities including hiking. Since the deer ticks can be as small as a pinhead, they are often overlooked. If infected ticks are not noticed and removed within 24 hours, they can cause debilitating symptoms for humans lasting for years until proper diagnosis is made and treatment is given.