Tick Season for Dogs and Cats

By Megan Kelley, DVM, CVA, CVSMT, FCoAC

Spring is just around the corner. With the onset of warm weather and the welcoming of outdoor adventures with our pets it is time to think about ticks. Specifically, why does it matter and how do we do it?

We care about keeping ticks off of us and our pets because ticks carry blood-borne diseases that can make us and our pets sick. And, having a tick attached to you or your pet gives most of us the heebie jeebies.

What ticks are located in Central Washington? We see the soft tick, Ornithodorus hermsi, American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis, Rocky Mountain wood tick, D. andersoni and occasionally the Western black-legged ticks, Ixodes pacificus.

These ticks can carry diseases that can cause a variety of illnesses. The soft tick can cause Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever due to transmission of bacteria into the blood. It results in fever, low platelet counts, lethargy and neurological disease. The American dog tick and the Rocky Mountain wood tick can pass on bacteria that result in Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), tick paralysis and Tularemia. RMSF can result in the following signs: fever, nausea, vomiting/diarrhea, muscle/joint/abdominal pain, lack of appetite, and depression. Skin bruising, eye inflammation and neurological abnormalities like seizures can also occur. Tick paralysis, as the name suggests, results in a generalized paralysis from a toxin in the female ticks’ saliva getting into the blood stream. Tularemia infection results in decreased appetite, lethargy, and low-grade fever. Less frequent signs include draining abscess, enlarged lymph nodes, tonsillitis and inflammation of the tissues of the eye or around the eye.

Lyme disease is a well-known tick-borne disease. Luckily infection with Lyme disease in Washington is rare. It is even rarer in Central Washington because the tick that carries this bacteria, the Western black-legged tick, is found mostly on the west side of the state. This tick also carries bacteria that causes Anaplasmosis and the blood parasite that causes Babesiosis.

So how can you prevent tick attachment?

There are many different products available to repel ticks. Some are topical liquids that are applied to the skin. Others are known as “tick collars” and are worn around the neck. They are all different forms of insecticides. You can ask your veterinarian about the differences between these products. Specifically ask about what species of ticks these cover against, how long the preventative works, whether you can use it on your dog and cat, and if it is water-proof. Some products are only safe on dogs.

Do not use DEET on your pets. It is toxic to pets and is meant to be sprayed on the clothing of people.

There are some natural products available. Those usually consist of a combination of topical herbs in solution applied immediately before possible exposure.

It can take several hours before an attached tick can transit disease, so finding and removing the tick is also helpful. The safest way to remove a tick is with rubbing alcohol and tweezers. Wet the tick with the alcohol and take hold of the tick as close to the animal’s skin as possible. Gently pull the tick off, trying not to leave the head imbedded in the skin. Do not squeeze the tick because this could result in the release of disease causing bacteria. You must remove the tick after applying the rubbing alcohol because rubbing alcohol alone will not kill the tick. Do not use hot matches, petroleum jelly, turpentine, nail polish or just the rubbing alcohol alone. These products are not safe for your pet.

Go enjoy the great Wenatchee outdoors, tick-free!

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