The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that the 2017 tick season, which goes from spring through summer and early fall, will be one of the worst we’ve had in years. This is especially important for us as dog owners because our pups are at risk for picking up ticks and the potential diseases they carry. Here’s what you should know about the 2017 tick season
Why Tick Season Is Bad In 2017
There are several factors that contribute to 2017 being a particularly bad year for tick season. One is that the northeastern United States had a fairly mild winter. Not only does this mean that more ticks will survive and reproduce, but the animals that ticks rely on for food sources like mice, deer, and other animals will be more available.
Another reason 2017 promises to have a tick population increase is that there was a mice population surge in 2016. Felicia Keesing, an ecologist at Bard College, and Rick Ostfeld, an ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, have developed a way of predicting cases of Lyme disease in a given year by looking at the mice population of the previous year. The population of mice directly correlates to the number of Lyme cases because mice carry the disease, and ticks feed on the mice and spread it.
You might not expect the events of 200 years ago to be affecting tick population today, but there’s an interesting reason that European settlers are partially responsible for the surge in ticks. Back then, areas like the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York were covered in forests. Settlers cut down many of the trees to make room for farms, build ships, and harvest firewood. Now many of the trees have grown back, but in patches instead of full forests.
Predators rely on large forests to survive. Small, patchy forests mean that prey like mice can thrive, and so can the ticks that feed on them. As people build their homes next to these tick-infested forests, the chances for humans and their pets to get bitten becomes much higher. In coming years, the problem is likely to only get worse.
The most well-known disease carried by ticks may be Lyme, which can infect dogs and humans. Most of the time a rash forms around the tick bite, but not always. Eventually, fever, headache, and lethargy appear followed by more serious symptoms like inability to move parts of the face, joint pains, heart palpitations, and memory problems. Lyme is spread by blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, as well as western blacklegged ticks.
Another well-known disease that is spread through ticks is Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Symptoms include headaches, lethargy, abdominal pain, and vomiting. It can be severe and fatal if it isn’t treated within a few days. The disease is spread by the American dog tick, the brown dog tick, and the Rocky Mountain wood tick.
Tularemia is a disease that can be ulcerglandular or glandular. Ulcerglandular tularemia results in an ulcer forming around the tick bite and swollen lymph glands. Glandular is similar, but without an ulcer. Both forms come with a high fever and can be life-threatening. It is spread by the American dog tick, the Lone Star tick, and the Rocky Mountain wood tick.
Anaplasmosis causes joint pain, lethargy, high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes nosebleeds and seizures. It is mostly not life-threatening, though it is carried by many types of ticks. The blacklegged tick, the Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the western blacklegged wood tick all spread anaplasmosis.
A disease that has been getting a lot of attention recently is Powassan. This virus isn’t common, but in humans, it can be devastating. Half of people who get the disease are permanently affected with chronic headaches, muscle wasting, and poor memory. Ten percent of people who get it die. No known cases have been reported in dogs, though that may be due to a lack of testing. Hopefully it is not transmittable to dogs, but take precaution to avoid it, as with any tick-borne disease. Powassan is spread by blacklegged ticks.
Most At-Risk Dogs And People
Different species of ticks can be found all over the United States, though some species tend to be found in specific regions. The blacklegged tick, or deer tick, is the one most often feared because it can carry Lyme and Powassan. While Powassan has not been found in dogs, Lyme can infect both humans and dogs alike. They can be found from the northeastern United states through the southeast, as well as around the Great Lakes region, especially Wisconsin where instances of Lyme are high.
The western blacklegged tick, which can also carry Lyme disease, is found all along the west coast of the United States and into Utah. Northern California has a high number of Lyme disease cases reported. If you don’t live in one of the regions already mentioned, you’re not out of the woods. Ticks that carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be found all over the country.
It’s important to take precautions. Because 2017 is going to see an increase in tick population, we’re also bound to see an increase in the area that they cover. People living in the northeast are going to be affected most due to the warm winter, the mice population of the previous year, and the increased populations of animals that ticks feed on.
Those who live near wooded areas, especially those in the northeast and Great Lakes areas, as well as marshy areas near oceans and other bodies of water should be careful. Instances of Lyme disease have gone up in the past several years, and this year will likely be even worse. When your dog goes out or if you go for a walk, always check for ticks when they come back inside. Ask your veterinarian if a Lyme vaccination is right for your dog.
No matter where you live, if you plan on camping or hiking with your dog, you’ll need to do a full body inspection every day, and pay special attention to the ears, face, and inner thighs. The bugs like to live on vegetation and tall grass where they can attach to a passing animal, as well as in leaf piles. Ticks can even live indoors, though it is less common to get bitten by a tick inside. Still, it can happen, and many dogs get bitten by ticks indoors during cold weather as the bugs move inside for warmth.
There are a few things you can do to reduce the chance that your dog will get bitten by ticks. First, perform regular inspections of your dog’s skin. Ticks are unfortunately easiest to spot when they’ve already become engorged with blood after a bite, and they can be the size of the head of a pin when they haven’t feasted. Using a comb to get deep beneath your dog’s coat will help with your inspection and may actually comb the ticks out if they aren’t attached.
Mowing your grass and keeping vegetation low may also help, as ticks like to climb high to improve their chances of attaching to an animal. Some people use pet-friendly pesticides, but since ticks live much of their life cycle underground, these may only provide temporary help.
Some topical tick medications can be used that will kill off ticks that bite your dog, and they’ll fall off by themselves. These are placed on the back of your dog’s neck, and the effects usually last for a month to several months depending on the medication. There are, however, potential side effects that you should be aware of, and some question whether these medicines are toxic to dogs, choosing to go with natural solutions, instead. You should research the facts for yourself and talk to your vet about what options work for you and your dog.
Sprays, powders, shampoos, and collars can also be used to fight off ticks. All have their pros and cons, so it’s important that you learn about them and decide on a plan with your vet. Whatever you decide, you should wash your dog’s bedding thoroughly from time to time to destroy any eggs and disrupt the ticks’ life cycles.
If you do happen to find a tick on your dog, it’s important that you know how to remove it. There is a rumor that using a match to remove a tick is the best way, but you are more likely to end up burning your dog’s skin than removing the tick.
Instead, clean the area surrounding the tick with alcohol. Use tweezers to grab the tick by the head, not the body. Pull upwards until the tick detaches. Some vets advocate turning the tick clockwise if it has burrowed deeply into the skin. If you pull the tick off, but the head is still attached, don’t worry. The head will most likely fall out on its own. Clean the area to prevent infection, and you can always consult your vet if you’re still worried.
Once the tick is removed, do not crush it, as their blood can be dangerous and harbor disease. Also, do not flush it down the toilet, as it can potentially crawl back out. Ticks are resilient. Instead, put the tick in a closed jar and drown it with alcohol. Your vet may ask you to keep any ticks that you’ve found on your dog for testing, especially if it is a species known to carry Lyme and your dog hasn’t been vaccinated.
Keep your dog and yourself safe this tick season. It’s bound to be a rough one.
What other ways do you keep your dog safe from ticks? Are you concerned about the tick population this year? Let us know in the comments below.