I’ve been a veterinarian in the Twin Ports for more than a decade, and the number of ticks and types of diseases carried by ticks seem to grow every year. In fact, every time I attend a veterinary conference, I scan the agenda for lectures on updates about ticks and tick diseases. We’re always learning new information.
In January I attended a lecture focused on tick diseases. Once again, I came away with new information to share with pet owners. The biggest learning has prompted a change in how I tell people to remove ticks.
For years, I instructed people to grasp a tick with their fingers near the attachment site and gently pull the tick’s body away from the skin. But as it turns out, this no longer is considered the best way to remove a tick.
An attached tick should be grasped close to the skin using a pair of fine-tipped tweezers or a tick remover, not fingers, and then pulled away from the skin. People should try to avoid crushing the tick’s body during removal. The new recommendation goes on to instruct us to clean all skin that the tick had touched with soap and warm water following the removal.
The bacteria in the tick, including Lyme and Anaplasma, are secreted from the ticks’ saliva and also their anal openings. Grasping a tick bare handed can lead to those bacteria getting on the skin, which can then cross mucous membranes, leading to infection.
In addition, squeezing the body of an infected tick while it is still attached could potentially push those organisms through the tick’s mouth parts and into the pet or the human.
Those of us who’ve seen large numbers of ticks on our pets probably have witnessed ticks feeding in close proximity to one another. When a tick is taking a blood meal, about half of the fluid ingested by the tick is returned to the host via the tick’s saliva. As a result, the co-feeding phenomenon enhances the number of organisms carried by the general tick population because ticks can be infected by picking up the saliva of nearby ticks.
The main diseases I see in dogs in the Twin Ports are Lyme and Anaplasmosis. Lyme tends to live in the gut of the tick, while Anaplasma lives in the tick’s mouth parts. This means it takes longer for Lyme bacteria to get into the host, such as a dog, because it has to travel farther through the tick to get into the saliva.
In general, a tick needs to be attached for 24 to 48 hours for it to transfer Lyme bacteria to a dog. Anaplasma’s typical transfer time from tick to dog is 18 to 24 hours. Experimentally under ideal conditions, Anaplasma has been reported to go from tick to dog in as little as three hours and Lyme in as little as six hours.
What does all this mean to pet owners? It means we must be vigilant in our attempts to keep ticks off our pets. As a parent, keeping ticks off of my pets means I also am helping to keep ticks out of my house and off of my children.
In my practice, I now use and recommend products that not only kill ticks but also repel them. A tick that is repelled and killed won’t attach and can’t spread disease. In our clinic, we use and recommend Bayer’s Seresto collar. Once placed on the dog or cat, this collar provides eight months of tick repelling and killing.
It is spring, and the tick reports are coming in. Now is the time to make sure your pet is protected.