We are always thrilled with the arrival of the cool fall weather, when it's not too cold and not too warm outside and it's truly a joy to walk our furry friends. At this time each year, we hear dog owners of all kinds ask if they can stop giving their dog's tick preventatives now that the cool weather has arrived. Unfortunately though, the arrival of fall does not bring the decrease in the tick population that many people expect. To help keep your pets (and you!) safe from ticks, we've put together our most commonly heard myths and questions about ticks.
How dangerous are ticks?
About 50% of black-legged ticks ("deer ticks") carry Lyme Disease. There are several other species of ticks in Massachusetts that can carry Ehrlichia, Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Powassan Virus, and tick paralysis. The chances of contracting one of these diseases after a tick bite is unknown.
What do I do if I find a tick on my pet?
Remove it immediately! Some diseases, like Lyme Disease, take several days to transmit, so tick removal can prevent infection. The best way to remove a tick is to slide something hard and flat, like a credit card, under the tick and firmly lift it away from the skin.Tick-removal tools are also very handy and can be purchased at CVH. Don't worry if you leave the tick head behind. Simply monitor the area for swelling and infection and have your pet seen if these signs occur. We also recommend that you monitor your pet for signs of lethargy and limping and have them seen right away if these signs occur in the first two weeks after a tick bite.
If I find a tick on my dog can it be tested for disease?
Technically, yes. UMass Amherst will test ticks for the most common tick-borne diseases and send you results within a week (http://www.tickreport.com/order). However, although it's possible to get these results, there are not currently any specific recommendations about what to do if a tick tests positive for disease. Some veterinarians will opt to treat animals with a short course of antibiotic if they are bitten by a tick that is known to carry disease, but the effectiveness of doing so is not known.
How do I prevent my pet from getting ticks?
The combination of avoidance and repellents can be 97% effective in avoiding prolonged tick attachment, but avoidance can be difficult in dogs with an active lifestyle. Some helpful steps include mulching any areas of your yard that are in between the woods and the lawn, spraying your yard with a non-toxic repellent like cedar or rose geranium oil, attracting birds to your yard and avoiding tall grasses in the late summer and early fall. In addition, veterinarian recommended tick repellents are both safe and very effective. There are formulas to suit every lifestyle, from monthly oral chews like Nexgard that kill ticks immediately after biting to repellent collars like Seresto which last up to 8 months and do an excellent job of repelling ticks. Be sure to buy a veterinary approved product, as many over-the-counter products are ineffective or contain excessively high doses of pyrethroids, which can be toxic to certain pets.
Do white dogs (or white clothes) help repel ticks?
No. Ticks are actually attracted to the color white, which resembles the underside of their preferred hosts (white-tailed deer and field mice). When a tick senses the color white, it activates its pinchers to grab onto the first thing that brushes against it. Yuck!
Can I stop giving my pet tick preventatives during the fall and winter months?
No. Unfortunately, ticks in New England are very cold-hardy. Unless the temperature stays below 40 degrees all day or the grass is covered in deep snow, ticks will become active and feed during the day. Because the weather cannot be counted upon to stay under 40 degrees all day, every day, all month long, we recommend continuing to give your dog's tick preventative through the fall and winter months.
Can cats get Lyme Disease?
No, but they can get several other diseases from ticks that can cause severe anemia and fever. They are also a tick's preferred taxi-ride into your home! If your cat goes outdoors, using a preventative to keep ticks off of your cat and out of your bed!
Wishing you all a safe and tick-free fall!
The CVH Team