We are now entering tick season … or so we think. Unlike many other parasites, ticks are not killed by freezing temperatures. They are not active unless the temperatures are above freezing. We rarely have prolonged periods of freezing temperatures that eliminate the need for prevention.
Maryland has the American dog tick, deer tick, brown dog tick, lone star tick and rarely the Gulf Coast tick. Some have no seasonality to active periods, while others are more active spring to fall with lower activity in winter. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease here. Ticks come with other diseases—Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick paralysis, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis. Preventing bites is critical, even after Lyme vaccination.
Dogs are the main focus. Outdoor cats get ticks, but groom most off and rarely develop tick-borne diseases. Dogs need more help from us. There are many effective products for tick prevention. The choice is based on lifestyle risks, health, budget and personal preferences.
Topicals (oil based and applied over the back) are still the best option. There is a collar that provides a more continuous topical oil over eight months (nothing like the traditional collars). The topicals stay in the oils against the skin and in the hair follicles and are not absorbed systemically. Ticks crawl through it and die or have their mouth paralyzed before they are able to bite.
Oral preventatives (pills) are effective, but these have downsides. Ticks have to bite to get the product and it can take eight to
48 hours to kill them. Unfortunately, ticks transmit disease in 24 hours. There is more risk of disease transmission even if you kill the tick. These products can trigger seizures in dogs prone to them. Pet owner concerns over exposure to humans with topicals and greater ease of administration drive interest in these products. These products are generally more expensive than topicals.
Managing your environment can also decrease the risk for tick exposure. Keep grass mowed under three inches, keep wood piles in dry areas, clean up yard waste, keep plants trimmed to avoid higher moisture on the ground, and avoid attracting deer and rodents. Choose hiking paths that are not lined by tall grasses and stay on the path. Yard treatments are also available at home improvement stores or can be professionally applied to reduce ticks.
Dogs can still get exposed even if you do everything correctly. Every dog should be checked for tick-borne disease once a year.
There is a great test available to run at your vet’s office in under 10 minutes. It screens for Lyme, two strains of anaplasmosis and two strains of ehrlichiosis. This test will catch it early and give your dog a chance to avoid more serious effects. Your veterinarian is a great resource to help you evaluate your dog’s risk level and which products are the best and safest for your dog and your family.