[Sticky] Vet Talk: The Tenacious Tick & Tick Borne Diseases by Dr. Laura Catena
We are seeing more and more cases of tick borne disease with often severe consequences. Ticks can be infected with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Some of the most common tick-borne diseases in the United States include: Lyme disease, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. My dog Isabelle has had both ehrlichiosis and lyme. We basically stay out of the woods now and I have her on immune-building supplements.—Red & Howling
1. What are some early subtle signs of tick borne disease that we might overlook?
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to detect signs early. Some dogs may be affected but not present with any clinical signs for over a year before they finally show symptoms. Can you believe that - no signs at all! A lot of dogs that I see who are affected and showing signs look as if they are "walking on eggshells." This can be in shifting-leg lamness. Many times they present with an elevated temperature. Some will present with lethargy and a decreased appetite as well.
2. What is the most common mistake or thing that your patients do when it comes to tick born illnesses?
The most common mistake I think pet owners make is not using a flea and tick preventative. What I have realized is that the pet owners who look over their pet after being in the woods (without using a preventative), have their pet's best intention in mind. However, it is usually not enough. These are the pets that return and test positive for tick-borne disease.
Ticks are really hard to see! So, imagine trying to find a tick on a dog who is covered in fur - it is virtually impossible. Definitely continue to examine your pet and remove any ticks you find - but use a tick preventative as well to cover anything that is not visible to your eye.
Another big misconception I see in practice is that some pet owners think that once there is the first frost that they can stop the tick preventative. This is not the case. Adult ticks are active whenever the weather approaches or exceeds freezing. If we have a few warmer winter days in a row, ticks very likely can be active.
3. How often do you recommend testing for tick borne diseases?
If a pet is showing symptoms, test. However, even if your pet is not showing symptoms, at their yearly veterinarian check-up and labwork screening, your vet will run a screening test at that time.
4. Is there one test that covers ALL common tick borne diseases?
What I use in practice is the 4DX test. This test screens for heartworm disease, Lyme, Anaplasma, and Ehrilichia. Heartworm disease is transmitted through mosquitoes, while the other three diseases are transmitted by ticks.
5. Are there additional tests that you would recommend beyond initial tick testing?
Yes, if the screening test comes back positive, there are additional diagnostics tests that your vet may run. This can be an area of controversy - your vet will discuss with you the tests, the information that they provide, as well as the health of your pet (for example, if your pet is showing any clinical signs).
6. These tests are often expensive; are there any cheap alternatives?
I am not aware of any cheaper alternatives.
7. If my pet is found to be positive with a tick borne disease, what supportive therapies would you recommend? Doxycycline is often the standard treatment, would adding a probiotic to replenish the good bacteria in the gut be a good idea?
I feel it does not hurt to add in a probiotic when antibiotics are used to help balance and maintain gut flora. Not all probiotics are the same though, so make sure to discuss this with your veterinarian so they can help determine which one will be most beneficial.
8. Aside from the obvious things, like avoiding tick infested areas and checking our pet over thoroughly after a hike, what tips do you have to help protect our babies from getting these tick borne diseases? I know garlic keeps away vampires :), but does anything keep ticks away?
Definitely continue to check your pet over for ticks, but use a tick preventative as well because the unfortunate reality that I see in practice are the pets that are not on a tick preventative are more likely to develop a tick-borne disease. Regarding prevention for Lyme disease, there is a vaccine that you can get from your vet as well. Nothing is 100%, so I recommend using both types of prevention.
Regarding garlic, this can be toxic to your pet. The toxic plant part is called Allium. Red blood cells can potentially be damaged when ingestion occurs. When the red blood cells are damaged, their ability to carry oxygen is hindered. Ingestion can also cause anemia (low red blood cell count). In severe cases, the anemia may lead to organ failure or death. I always encourage pet owners to supplement their pet's diet with safe fresh fruit and vegetables, but there are some foods that are healthy for humans that we need to be avoiding better when it comes to our pets.
Important note: When purchasing a flea/tick preventative, please make sure you are ordering from your veterinarian or a source that your veterinarian recommends, such as a reputable online pharmacy. Many products are counterfeit and you are not getting the product that you are paying for. This is because companies have been known to repackage expired products or package product that do not contain what they should.
Also, please avoid any type of generic flea and tick products. I can not tell you how many adverse reactions (and failure to prevent fleas and ticks) I have seen with the generic flea and tick products, such as topicals (spot-on treatments), collars, shampoos.
Laura Catena, DVM is a practicing veterinarian in Pennsylvania. Laura is the inventor of the compassionate ArmOr Hand Gloves designed for gentle handling of animals while protecting the hands from injury.
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In the fall of 2016 I was contacted about a dog on death row in a shelter. The rescue i work with said they had a foster lined up in washington state, but no transportation - was there anyway "I" could go get him. I had to convince the boyfriend - promising it would be only one week until we could get his vet check and put him on the bus. We were just about to start a full kitchen remodel, i have two full time (read "high maintenance" dogs) but i got the boyfriend to agree to chauffeur. Fresno isn't exactly around the corner, this dog was listed at 70 pounds and i simply didn't want to do it by myself. Boyfriend's not what you would exactly call a "dog person" but - pfft - he sure can drive!!
Wondering what type of tick preventatives folks are using? Our vet recommended Frontline (for ticks) and Trifexis (for fleas & worms). It seems like a lot of chemicals and wondering if there are healthier options?
@Griff Mom we have advantix which is a pipet to treat Murphy but I use it as little as possible, the rest of the time I give him a little block of sheeps fat with garlic in it (they are weighed and measured blocks) the garlic seems to ward off both ticks and fleas as hes never had either... We do walk in grass land and forest that have deer..
Is it weird that every time i see Ruger's pictures i get a lump in my throat and my eyes well up with tears? Man, i loved that dog!! If Brick had been more tolerant, i'd have kept him in a heartbeat.
My dogs were on Bravecto. but i just kinda got to the place where i don't want to keep pumping them full of chemicals. I do give them the heartworm preventative, Interceptor - even tho there are ZER-OH cases of heartworm in my area. Just won't chance that one. I'm not doing anything for fleas and ticks. Have never seen a tick in my area - tho if the fleas take root, they're a nightmare to get rid of. (i got them every year on my indoor cats!) But.. Right now i'm on the "wing and a prayer" plan.
My back up plan is to try these citronella wipes i found at the local beefcake (GNC) shop.
Is it weird that every time i see Ruger's pictures i get a lump in my throat and my eyes well up with tears?
Not weird at all.. I cant look at Oscars photos without a tear.. As many dogs as Ive loved and had in my life he was the one who touched my soul..
I tried the natural topical preventatives for my two dogs, but the ticks didn't care at all. Thankfully I don't have any fleas in the house and have never seen a flea on either dog (knock wood).
I used Frontline Plus for several years and had good results. I use Simparica now. With the Frontline the ticks would attach and start to feed and die - attached. With the Simparica I will sometimes find a dead tick in the coat of the dog, but it isn't attached. My veterinarian said the ticks still have to bite to get the Simparica, but they don't seem to stay attached.
Like any of these things, Simparica is full of chemicals, but the tick situation is so bad around here that needed to take the risk in order to keep the ticks from attaching and feeding.
I do a tick check on myself and the dogs several times a day, starting right about now, and this goes until at least January. I hate ticks!
The topical spray I tried that's all natural was Green Mountain Tick Repellant. It might be worth a try for you if you'd like to stay on the natural side of things. You have to reapply it frequently. It smells nice. 🙂
My experiences with ticks might be extreme, because my home and yard is surrounded by woods. I can't go out into the garden this time of year without finding at least three walking on me.
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