Most people can agree that ticks are pretty icky. External parasites that bite into skin, suck out blood, and leave potentially deadly disease behind? That is both icky and tricky!
So, let’s talk ticks. Most ticks live in tall grass, brush and woods. They are attracted to the smell of breath and body odor of “hosts”, including wild animals, our pets and us. When they detect a potential host, they hold on to grass or a branch with their six hind legs and hold the front two legs out- like a toddler wanting to be picked up. They then grab ahold of the host and find a protected spot to pull apart skin with little hooks in their mouthparts, and insert a “hypostome”, which acts like a straw to suck out blood.
Ticks, while icky, are mainly a concern because of the transmission of disease. While sucking blood, disease passes from the tick back into the host through the hypostome. While there are tick borne diseases that can affect cats, in our area, most clinical tick borne disease in companion animals is identified in dogs.
Ohio is becoming a high-risk area for Lyme disease, caused by the bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi. Ohio also has an increasing prevalence of Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis, also caused by bacteria.
The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) records a 1.82% positivity rate in 2021 for Lyme disease in Franklin County. But bordering Licking, Fairfield and Pickaway Counties are steeply higher at 6-10% positivity rates! As high as 1 in every 10 dogs!
Positivity rates for Ehrlichia and Anaplasma are currently lower at about 1 positive case in every 50 dogs tested in our area.
Most veterinarians recommend a regularly performed heartworm test for your dog. The SNAP 4DX test is an example of a commonly used blood test that works in just 8 minutes and will not only detect heartworm disease, but also Lyme, Ehrlichia and Anaplasma.
Many dogs that test positive for one of these tick borne diseases are not clinically ill at the time of detection. Your veterinarian will discuss options with you for treatment and follow up if your pet tests positive. A dog that is ill with tick borne disease will often have symptoms of fever, depression, lethargy, loss of appetite, joint pain and more.
It is important to note that if you travel with your pet, different areas of the country have some different tick profiles and different tick borne diseases. Cats that travel to areas in the south to southwest are also in danger. So it is necessary to mention this to your veterinarian.
In the Eastern US there are 4 main types of ticks, each having some distinct physical characteristics.
Rhipicephalus, commonly called the “Brown Dog Tick” are nondescript brown in color, and common throughout the US. They are the tick that can live happily in kennels and homes, reproducing rapidly and causing infestation. Because they can live inside, they are active all year. They carry several tick-borne diseases, including Ehrlichioses and Anaplasmosis.
Ixodes, commonly called “Deer Ticks” or “Blacklegged Ticks” are small, reddish brown, elongated ticks, and the adult females have a large black shield between the shoulders. Ixodes are very prevalent in the Northeast, but are spreading through the upper south and Midwest. These ticks are active all year, and one of the reasons to use excellent tick prevention on your dog year round. They like wooded areas with good protection from sun and wind. These ticks are the dangerous transmitters of Lyme disease, but can also transmit Anaplasmosis.
Dermacentor, commonly called the “American Dog Tick”, are common across the eastern half of the US. The adult females have a speckled white collar and the adult males have a mottled appearance. These ticks transmit many tick diseases, including Tularemia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. But are perhaps, most notable because of their prevalence in urban and suburban settings due to their preferred host population of squirrels, raccoons and other small animals adapted to those environments.
Amblyomma americanum, commonly called the “Lone Star Tick”, are more recently arrived in the Northeast. The adult females have a white dot on their back, making them easily identifiable. They get active with the first warming up of spring. Their habitat is woods, long grasses and thick brush. They are known to carry Ehrlichia, as well as other diseases.
Preventing tick borne disease is ideal. Your primary defense is going to be an effective tick product. I recommend getting recommendations from your veterinarian for what is the best choice for your pet in your area. There are topical and oral medications that can help prevent transmission of tick disease. Some can be used together for maximum effect.
There is a vaccine available for Lyme disease. Ask your veterinarian if they recommend it for your dog.
Making sure to check your pet often for ticks and remove any that are found is also important. Ticks have different life stages. The smallest are larvae, then they molt to a nymph before becoming adults. The super-tiny stages can be easy to miss, even on a human, so check your pets carefully. Some tick borne diseases require the tick to be embedded in the skin for 24-48 hours so, the sooner they are removed the less likely disease transmission has occurred. Still, certain Erhlichia and Anaplasma species can be transmitted in 3-6 hours, so a good preventive is crucial.
An embedded tick is best removed by grabbing at the head of the tick, nearest the skin, with tweezers or forceps and then slowly and steadily pulling straight out. There are commercial tick removers available as well, but hair may interfere with their use, so choose wisely. The CDC also recommends washing hands after removal, or wearing gloves. Deposit the tick in a little vial of rubbing alcohol, or flush down the toilet.
I am told this Tick Talk is not ready for TikTok, as that is 60 seconds or less. So, ahem, here follows my TikTok Tick Talk: Icky ticky sticky? Picky. No licky; no sicky. Pretty tricky. Flush quicky.
Catherine H. Drost, DVM “Dr. Cate”