Fall is tick season. From late September through the end of December, not a day goes by when I don’t have to remove a tick from my patients. These pests exist in abundance in every back yard in New Jersey. Many of them carry multiple infectious-disease-causing bacteria that put both humans and pets at risk.
The best known tick-borne disease is Lyme Disease. However, recent studies show that Anaplasmosis is rapidly replacing Lyme disease as the most prevalent tick-borne disease in our community. Our hospital routinely tests for 3 tick-borne diseases as part of the annual screening for our dogs, and we’re finding more and more positive Anaplasma cases every year. The two diseases are very similar, as are their symptoms: joint pain, fever, poor appetite and sluggishness. Often times, dogs infected with Anaplasmosis only exhibit one of these symptoms. Sometimes there aren’t symptoms at all—or they are so mild that we overlook them. The important part of yearly testing for tick-borne diseases is that most dogs are exposed in their own yards and a positive test result means that the humans in that family can potentially become infected as well.
Dogs are lucky. Unlike human medicine, veterinary medicine has a very safe and effective vaccine against Lyme disease. However, no vaccine exists for Anaplasmosis. This may explain why we are seeing less Lyme and more Anaplasmosis. On the brighter side, about a dozen safe and effective, high-quality tick preventive products exist out there to help protect your dog or cat. It’s important to note that some products which work well on dogs can be toxic—even fatal—to cats, so please read the instructions carefully before administering to your cat. Consult your Veterinarian about which product best suits your situation.
Ticks range in size from that of a pin head to a large blueberry (if filled with a blood meal).
It’s perfectly fine to remove the tick that is imbedded in your pet. Flushing the tick down the toilet always works for me once I’ve removed it. The longer a tick is on your pet, the greater its chances are of spreading disease-causing bacteria to spread your pet. So check your pet daily (even if he/she is on monthly preventive). Ticks prefer the head, neck and base of the ear, but they may be found further back on the torso.
FACT: Cats are naturally more resistant to tick-borne diseases than either humans or dogs. That’s why we see so many more cases in dogs and people. There is no Lyme vaccine for people or cats, but I’m sure that one isn’t too far away. The same can be said for Anaplasmosis since it’s rapidly on the rise.
REMEMBER: Prevention is the best anecdote. Have your dog vaccinated against Lyme disease and protect your dog and cat with an appropriate tick preventive product. Check yourself, your cats, your kids and your dog every day. If your dog or cat is experiencing any (or all) of the symptoms described above, seek veterinary help as soon as possible. The good news is that tick-borne diseases are usually treatable and curable with a 3-4 week course or antibiotics if caught early. Enjoy the Fall season and be safe!