Deer Tick on a Leaf

Spring has sprung, bringing with it the promise of budding flowers, warmer weather, longer days — and time to get ticked off. That’s right—ticks. These tiny disease carriers are most active during the spring and summer and can transmit Lyme disease to both you and your pets. The Lyme Disease Foundation, along with the Merial pharmaceutical company, recognizes April as Prevent Lyme in Dogs Month to increase awareness of the risks and encourage pet owners to take precautions.

The Facts: Ticks transmit Lyme disease, or borreliosis, is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by the bite of infected deer ticks. Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vectorborne disease among Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is also a serious health concern for dogs.

In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that more than 21,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported each year in the United States. Although it has been found in every state, Lyme is still most prevalent in the Northeast and upper Midwest.

Some infected animals will not show symptoms, while others develop fever, loss of appetite, joint pain, and lethargy. Although humans can develop heart and neurological problems, these issues are extremely rare in infected pets. However, if untreated, canine Lyme disease can cause kidney damage.

The good news is that when Lyme is detected in animals early and treated with antibiotics, pets recover quickly. If you suspect your pet has been infected, your veterinarian can run a blood test to find out.

Prevention: No single form of tick control is a silver bullet. Instead, a combination strategy which includes avoidance, habitation control, tick checks, and repellents is the best way to protect your pets from Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.

Ticks thrive in damp, dense woods, so walk your dog on trails and away from vegetation. Control tick habitation by mowing your lawn regularly and removing leaf litter and brush piles.

Ticks are often hard to find, but checking your pets frequently can greatly reduce the chance of infection. A tick needs to be attached for 48 hours to transmit the Lyme disease bacteria.

Most dog owners understand certain risks and had a general awareness of the prevalence of borreliosis. Their understanding of preventive measures such as vaccination, however, was limited. More than 55 percent of respondents did not know whether they had vaccinated their dogs against borreliosis.

So, if you live in a high-risk area, your veterinarian may recommend the annual Lyme disease vaccination, screenings, and a repellant. Safe, reliable chemical and natural tick control products are available from your veterinarian as dips, sprays, collars, and topical applications. Many prevent fleas as well.

But how do you choose? Ask your veterinarian. Most veterinarians tailor their recommendations to the lifestyle your pet. For example, if your dog spends a lot of time swimming, there are some topical products that are more water-resistant than others. However, none are 100% effective. The degree of prevention for your pet depends upon exposure to areas at high risk for Lyme disease. Grooming to detect ticks and prompt removal will help to minimize the risk of contracting Lyme disease. Tick prevention and tick-killing products are available for dogs. Products containing permethrin (BioSpot); amitraz (Preventic Collars);or fipronyl (Frontline Plus) can be used safely on dogs.

Following these simple but effective ways to control and treat ticks on your dog will help both of you enjoy the spring and all of the activities it offers. The only one that will be “ticked off” will be the tick as it will lose its free ride and you dog will be healthy and happy for many years to come.