Worldwide, ticks are on the rise and on the move. We in Western Washington can see this for ourselves. Old-timers here will tell you that that in the past you could never find a tick west of the Cascades. Now, a changing climate means spring and summer are tick season. Ticks here may be a relatively recent phenomenon, but they are here to stay. This year, the Washington State Department of Health and other agencies are warning people to be extra cautious when going outdoors this summer. With the recent mild winter along with the earlier warmer temperature, officials are reporting a dramatic increase in ticks throughout the entire state. As tick populations expand, so do the instances of tick-borne diseases in both humans and animals. Here in Washington, the Western Black-Legged Tick (deer tick) carries Lyme disease. Other tick species can also carry dangerous diseases. So what do pet guardians need to know to keep their pets and themselves safe?
Pets can get Lyme disease and other diseases from a tick bite. These conditions can be very difficult to diagnose, especially in pets. Prevention is a pet guardian’s first and most important line of defense. Consider what measures you may need to take. If you rarely leave the city, you are much less likely to encounter a tick than if you are someone who hikes or camps regularly. Likewise, if you live near a wooded area, especially if your dog or cat roams in woods or tall grass, your pet has a greater chance of acquiring a tick.
A variety of pharmaceutical tick repellents are available, ranging from over-the-counter spot treatments and collars to oral medications, shampoos and dips. Some of these have potentially toxic long-term effects on pets, so be sure to research ingredients and consult with your veterinarian. Also, ticks can and have developed resistance to some of these medications. Consulting with a veterinary professional who has experience with ticks and tick repellents is the best way to know what products work. You can also purchase tick repellents that use natural essential oils, or you can make your own. Aromatic oil repellents are simple to make and really do work. Canine Journal offers one proven recipe. Always avoid your pet’s eyes, nose and mouth when applying essential oil repellents. No repellent is fool-proof, so always check your dog for ticks, even if you are using a repellent.
If you live in a tick-prone area, you can help keep your pets tick-free by keeping trails groomed and grass cut. Reducing vegetation and keeping a three-foot mulch or gravel buffer between your yard and wooded or tall-grass areas are two other ways to help keep these parasites at bay.
For reasons scientists don’t completely understand, a healthy dog is less likely to be preyed upon by parasites, both internal and external. Keeping your dog or cat in great health by providing excellent nutrition and plenty of exercise helps reduce the likelihood that he or she will contract a tick. Explore more about canine nutrition with the PugetPets blog here.
If you’re like a lot of people in the Seattle area, you love the outdoors and so does your dog. Camping, hiking and generally playing in the great outdoors with our best friends is what many of us would rather be doing. When you do go out into the woods and fields, learn to be tick-aware. Ticks are able to be active at any time there is not a freeze, but are generally most active in early spring through the summer months. Try to keep your dog on-trail. Washing your dog (and yourself) within two-hours after possible exposure can help dislodge any ticks that might be hitching a ride but are not yet embedded. Learn to check your dog thoroughly for ticks after each outdoor adventure. Ticks are good at hiding and they are naturally attracted to warm and moist areas. Remember to check dogs’ ears, groin and rear, between their pads and under their collars. Check out this article from PetMD for more information about how to locate ticks on your dog.
Once you find a tick on your pet, it’s important to use the correct method to remove it. Old folk methods involving petroleum jelly or hot needles should be avoided. They can be dangerous, causing the tick to release more saliva and even its digestive juices into the animal, which increases the risk to your pet of contracting a disease. It’s also important to remove these critters without breaking off their mouth-parts, as this can cause serious infection. This recent King5 video shows proper tick removal in action. “Pro” tick removal tools, such as the Tick Wrangler and Tick Key are also effective and inexpensive ways to be sure you are removing a tick properly.
Washington State Department of Health provides lots of information about ticks and the diseases they transmit. You can also send your removed tick to them for identification and to help them in their tick tracking and disease-risk assessment efforts. University of Rhode Island’s Tick Encounter Resource Center offers an exhaustive array of resources, materials and tick tactics through their website. They include information on ticks of the Pacific Northwest. Visit TickEncounter.org to access their resources, which include educational materials for teachers, camp counselors and more.