Dr. Bryan Blagburn, veterinary parasitologist and a founder and board member of the Companion Animal Parasite Council, says it makes sense to use a topical tick preventative on your dog. These products are squeezed from a tube onto a dog's back to repel ticks before they can hitch a ride and bite.
The bottom line is, use something, because ticks are on the attack big-time.
"Tick disease in dogs is at epidemic proportions," Blagburn says. In endemic areas, such as New England and the upper Midwest, up to half of all dogs may be infected with Lyme disease, the most common of tick diseases in dogs.
According to the recently released Banfield State of Pet Health 2014 Report, the prevalence of Lyme disease in dogs throughout the country has increased by 21 percent since 2009.
Veterinarians like Blagburn, a distinguished professor at Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn, AL, have known about the accelerating tick numbers for years -- and the threat extends to people, as well as pets. Last summer, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adjusted its estimates for Lyme disease, saying the malady is now 10 times more common than previous national counts showed -- with over 300,000 people a year getting sick. Those numbers are expected to continue to rise.
Arguably, the most accurate mapping for tick disease originates from the Companion Animal Parasite Council. Their maps show where parasites like ticks are located and their population density. Tick species are on the move, steadily expanding their range. And where tick species go, disease follows.
One example is the Gulf Coast tick, which spreads an often devastating emerging disease few have heard of called canine hepatozoonosis. Soon people will be hearing that the tick species which spreads this disease is no longer limited to Gulf Coast states.
The Lone Star Tick and two deer tick species are responsible for a very recent and sudden explosion of anaplasmosis, a tick disease not too different from Lyme.
Sometimes pets (or people) can contract a cocktail of several diseases simultaneously from a single tick, referred to as co-infection. As an example, a tick can deliver both Lyme disease and anaplasmosis in one bite.
Urban areas and suburbs are no longer safe havens from ticks. Where there's wildlife, there are ticks, and therefore tick disease. And like the ticks which feed off them, deer, raccoon, opossum, mice and even wild turkey are now found in greater numbers and in more places. City rats will even do, as ticks are not fussy.
For decades, people from major metropolitan areas like New York and Chicago have vacationed with their dogs in upstate New York or Wisconsin. They have unknowingly imported ticks back home, where the pests have dropped off and are now thriving.
One piece of good news is that not all dogs (or for that matter, people) infected with Lyme disease become ill. Blagburn adds that only 5 to 10 percent of dogs in endemic areas show symptoms. What's unknown is if years later the disease may crop up and go undiagnosed.
Blagburn believes thousands of dogs are walking around with undiagnosed Lyme disease.
"How do you know if the dog has symptoms?" he asks. "Lyme disease is the great imposter; it can mask other diseases, so we might not know. If a dog just feels lousy, that tail still wags and he's not calling in sick to the office."
There is a sensitive and inexpensive test for Lyme exposure in dogs, which is conducted in veterinary clinics. The same blood test can also indicate two other nasty tick-borne diseases (Ehrlichia ewingii and Anaplasma platys), as well as heartworm disease (spread by mosquitoes). In all areas where ticks live, Blagburn feels every dog should be tested.
Warding off ticks in the first place is a common sense approach to protection, and the method pet owners prefer. In a new survey conducted by CEVA Animal Health and DogChannel.com, dog owners said they favored topical medications by a 9-to-1 margin as the product type of choice to protect their pets from becoming lunch for fleas, ticks or mosquitoes.
Learn more at http://www.vectrapet.com, http://www.petsandparasites.org, or http://www.dogsandticks.com.
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)
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