There is growing concern among veterinarians and researchers that tick-borne diseases are spreading within the United States. Suspected reasons for increases in ticks and the illnesses they transmit may include changing weather patterns, vegetation, human population densities, and human, pet and livestock travel. Surveillance, while performed through regular testing in our dogs, can be somewhat inaccurate due to lack of testing in some populations of dogs, underreporting to government agencies, and the vague symptoms that are associated with tick diseases. The prevalence of these diseases in our areas is estimated yearly. In our hospital, we have seen increased numbers of positive Ehrlichia and Lyme antibody tests over the last few years.
The most common tick diseases veterinarians are testing for include Ehrlichia, Anaplasmosis, and Lyme. These diseases are caused by different species of bacteria carried most commonly by Eastern and Western black-legged ticks (deer ticks) and American dog ticks. When an infected tick bites a dog, the bacteria can be transmitted to the dog while the tick feeds. Parasitologists have not definitively determined exactly how long it takes the tick to transmit the disease, but most resources state it takes 24-48 hours of attachment to transmit disease. The longer a tick is on its host, the higher the risk of disease transmission. Symptoms of Ehrlichia, Anaplasmosis, or Lyme disease may include fever, lethargy, reduced appetite, muscle aches, lameness, or nose bleeds, while some patients may not show any visible signs. Changes on blood work can include altered globulins, kidney values, platelets, and white or red blood cells. Depending upon the disease, symptoms may be of sudden onset to more chronic multi-organ involvement. While full recovery is possible, some pets may have long term effects.
Prevention is key. Ticks don’t die over the winter. As soon as a warm Colorado day arrives, they come out to quest for food. The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends year round tick prevention for all dogs due to the expanding range of ticks and the increasing numbers of illness in new areas in the United States. There are many types of tick preventatives, used topically or orally with very good safety and efficacy. Your veterinarian is the best resource for discussing these options. Avoiding tall grass and wooded areas helps, but that can be impossible in our mountains. Even when using a preventative medication, checking your pet after walks in order to promptly remove a tick is important. To remove a tick, wear gloves to avoid exposure to disease, use small tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull straight up. Wash your hands and the tick bite area with soap and water. In addition to prevention, annual screening of your dog’s blood for antibodies to these three diseases has become very important. We are often able to detect disease prior to the onset of symptoms, follow up with further testing to assess the need for treatment, and treat the animal more promptly. Screening is inexpensive and easy.
I encourage you to visit the Companion Animal Parasite Council webpage www.petsandparasites.org where you can look at incidence maps across the United States for prevalence information in each state, tick disease forecasts, protection while traveling to other areas, and to learn how to protect your family from parasites shared by our pets. There are many more tick diseases that affect both people and pets in Colorado, including Tularemia which causes symptoms similar to Plague. The Colorado Tick-Borne Disease Awareness Association has abundant information for Coloradans at www.coloradoticks.org. If you have any questions about ticks, prevention, or screening, please feel free to contact a veterinarian at Evergreen Animal Hospital at 303 674 4331.