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Q: What’s the deal with ticks and geography? Can my dog get the same tick-borne diseases as dogs in other parts of the country?
Ick! A tick! Say that three times fast and join the millions of people who do the creeped-out face just upon seeing one, let alone finding these real-world freakos on their pets — or themselves!
These villainous vampires attach to the skin of an animal or a human with their razor-sharp mouthpieces and feed on blood, which they need to survive. In the process, they pick up bacteria, viruses, or protozoa from their first hosts — usually deer or rodents — and then transmit the disease-causing microorganisms to their next victim: you or your pet.
And disease transmission is rapid. It generally takes 24 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease, probably the most well-known tick-borne disease, but some infections may be transmitted more quickly.
Where do ticks live? You name it, they’re there.
Ticks are now found in every state, including Alaska, and their populations are increasing. Experts recommend year-round protection against them for pets.
“Even though there is not 365 days of tick activity, there is 12 months of tick activity, because in any given month there will be a few days where it’s warm enough for ticks to be out,” said Susan E. Little, D.V.M., who teaches veterinary parasitology at Oklahoma State University and is president of the Companion Animal Parasite Council. Indeed, if the air temperature reaches between 35 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, ticks can start to become active, according to Michael W. Dryden, D.V.M., a veterinary parasitologist at Kansas State University.
Here’s what to know about tick species in your region:
Deer ticks, or black-legged ticks, spread Lyme disease, human babesiosis, and anaplasmosis in dogs and humans. Other ticks in this area that feed on humans and dogs are the American dog tick, which spreads Rocky Mountain spotted fever; the brown dog tick, which spreads canine ehrlichiosis and canine babesiosis; and the lone star tick, which spreads human ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and many other bacteria and viruses.
The same ticks and tick-borne diseases occur in these areas as in the Northeast. The South is also home to the Gulf Coast tick, which transmits a type of spotted fever to humans as well as canine hepatozoonosis. In Missouri, a new and still rare disease called Heartland virus is spread to humans by lone star ticks.
American dog ticks, Pacific Coast ticks, and Rocky Mountain wood ticks spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. Brown dog ticks transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and western black-legged ticks spread Lyme disease and anaplasmosis.
The good news is that we have dramatically more powerful and improved methods of tick control available to us, so we can protect not only our pets from disease, but also ourselves. Oral tick preventives that also control fleas are available from places such as your veterinarian’s office. They are given either monthly or quarterly. tick-control collars are another option. They have a slow-release system of the compound that kills the ticks, so they can last for three to eight months before they need to be replaced.
In heavy tick areas, sometimes oral or topical preventives are used along with a tick-control collar.
If you live in an area such as the Northeast or Upper Midwest, where Lyme disease is endemic, talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s lifestyle and whether he’s a candidate for the Lyme disease vaccine. Most important, though, is to protect your dog from ticks in general.
Don’t forget to “tickscape” your yard. Trim back foliage and keep grass cut short to reduce tick habitat. Remove brush piles and leaf litter around the house.
You figure you’re safe because your dog spends most of his time indoors? Think again. The brown dog tick can live entirely indoors. It can survive unfed for more than a year inside a home, so even indoor-only dogs can be at risk for tick infection.
Read more about ticks on Dogster:
About the author: Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian,” has spent his life working toward better health for pets and the people who love them. The author of 24 books, Dr. Becker was the resident veterinary contributor on Good Morning America for 17 years. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the American Humane Association, as well as its chief veterinary correspondent; a founding member of Core Team Oz for The Dr. Oz Show; and a member of the Dr. Oz Medical Advisory Board. When his schedule allows, he practices at North Idaho Animal Hospital. Connect with him on Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, and Google Plus.