Tick, tick, tick. It’s that time of year again.
As temperatures warm, disease-carrying ticks can pose health risks to our four-legged friends.
Exposure to tick-borne diseases, particularly Lyme disease, is currently high, according to Dr. Tegan Fuller, veterinarian at the Washington Area Humane Society.
“At the Washington Area Humane Society, we screen all dogs for exposure to Lyme, and about 70 percent of dogs entering our shelter test positive,” Fuller said.
Although exposure doesn’t necessarily mean the dogs all have Lyme disease, the Humane Society treats them with an antibiotic, according to Kelly Proudfit, executive director of the Humane Society.
Proudfit said it expects tick exposure to be worse this year.
“That’s why it’s good to have a complete blood count. Ticks carry a lot of bad stuff. You want to check in on your pet regularly and make sure they’re getting treatment,” Proudfit said.
Missy Nowakowski, who works as a veterinary technician at Blout Veterinary in Hopwood, Fayette County, said she also saw an increase in ticks. She said the current situation is “very bad”.
“They’ve gone up every year for the past 10 years,” Nowakowski said.
Dr. Richard Cessna, who has a veterinary practice along Route 136 in North Strabane Township, agreed.
“The trend is that it’s worse and it’s going to get worse,” Cessna said.
Dogs with Lyme disease may exhibit symptoms such as fever, joint pain or swelling and lethargy. Although Nowakowski says Lyme is the most common tick-borne disease they treat, there are others in western Pennsylvania.
Canine ehrlichiosis can also cause fever in dogs, along with poor appetite and low blood platelets, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC) website.
Nowakowski said they’re also seeing dogs with babesiosis, which the AKC says breaks down red blood cells and can cause lethargy, pale gums and dark-colored urine.
In his office, Cessna said he observed ticks that bring diseases more common in the south or west.
“Some of these ticks carry diseases foreign to our area,” Cessna said, adding that’s an important reason to track tick prevention.
When it comes to keeping your pets safe, Fuller and Nowakowski independently gave the same advice: “We recommend quality year-round flea and tick prevention.”
Although ticks are more common in the spring, Nowakowski says that doesn’t mean they go away during the winter months.
“They survive well in the cold,” she said.
When it comes to finding the right treatment, Nowakowski says there are plenty of generic products in pet stores, but pet owners should consult with their veterinarians to decide on the best approach.
“You have to be careful what you choose. Have a vet or technician walk you through this,” Nowakowski said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website provides a wealth of resources for managing ticks. According to the CDC, it is important to check your pet for ticks daily. They recommend checking in and around the ears, tail, eyelids, under the collar, under the front legs, between the back legs and between the toes.
The CDC also has a list of tips for keeping your garden tick-free. These include mowing frequently, removing dead leaves, and placing a three-foot-wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between the lawn and wooded areas.
While there aren’t vaccines for all tick-borne diseases, Nowakowski said getting your dog’s annual Lyme shot will go a long way to keeping him healthy.
At the Washington Area Humane Society, pet owners whose animals need to be vaccinated can register for a place in their low-cost vaccination clinic at washingtonpashelter.org. Proudfit said there will be dates offered in April and May.
The clinic offers services for cats and dogs. Flea and tick treatment for both species will be available for $15 a dose, or buy three, get one free.