Ticks cause health problems by causing skin injury and infections at the site of attachment, and large numbers can result in severe anemia. But the most serious diseases come about by the micro-organisms that are transmitted through their mouth parts and saliva. The most well-known tick-borne or transmitted disease is Lyme Disease, but there are many other diseases including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, and Erlichiosis. These are considered rickettsia micro-organisms that infect many organ systems including hematologic, renal, hepatic, gastrointestinal, neurologic and skin. They can even “trigger” immune mediated diseases when the immune system attacks normal cells or tissues, for example immume mediated hemolytic anemia that cause widespread rupture of red blood cells. Some ticks transmit neurotoxins that can lead to paralysis (Coon Hound Paralysis). Tick-borne diseases can be acute or chronic, and are often a diagnostic challenge for veterinarians and physicians. Since these are intracellular infections, they sometimes are difficult to completely resolve and patients can be chronically infected or have relapsing symptoms where infection can be lifelong. More recent research shows that some tick diseases can be transmitted to dogs within 6 hours of attaching and starting a blood meal.
There are numerous species of ticks but the most common ones in our area are the Brown Dog Tick, American Dog Tick, Lone Star Tick, and Deer Tick. They can potentially occur year-round, but spring time is the season they are the most prevalent. It is critically important to practice tick control beginning in the spring before the “tick bloom” that invariably occurs in March / April timeframe and continues through the summer and into autumn depending on the weather conditions. Most, if not all, boarded veterinary internists and parasitologists now recommend year-round tick control and prevention.
There are several effective and safe products that can be combined with an existing heartworm and flea control program. The more traditional approaches use monthly “spot-on” topicals such as Activyl™. A couple of highly effective tick collars are called Scalibor™ and Seresto™. Nexgard™ is the first oral monthly tick and flea control product manufactured by the makers of HeartGard, the monthly heartworm and GI parasite preventive and control product that is very popular. Bravecto™ is the first long acting oral product that can be given quarterly every 2-3 months for flea and tick control.
Another seasonal concern is venomous snakes and Lyme Disease. Rattlesnakes and Copperhead bites are one of the most common pet emergencies we see in our area. Fortunately, there is an effective vaccine that enables a dog to develop its own antivenin upon vaccination. It is a 2 dose series the first year, and annual boosters are recommended. Vaccinated pets either need essentially no treatment when bitten by these venomous snakes or only minimal supportive treatment. If not protected by vaccination, treatment consists of expensive IV antivenin that typically costs around $900 per vial, IV fluids and drugs to treat shock, IV antibiotics, and hospitalization with intensive care that can easily reach $1500 or more. The rattlesnake vaccine provides great protection at low costs.
Lyme vaccine is recommended for dogs at risk. Deer ticks in North Carolina have been found to harbor the Lyme micro-organism, known as Borrelia. The vaccine requires an initial 2 dose series with annual boosters. It is inexpensive and helps prevent a disease that is serious potentially causing acute renal failure leading to death, or chronic debilitation in dogs. Also, by protecting your dogs, this may also provide some protection for your other family members as well.
I highly recommend that you contact your veterinarian who can make the best recommendation on an effective and safe product that is consistent with your current parasite control program and is most cost effective. Be sure to protect your pet from these dangerous parasites that have zoonotic potential so you can add a layer of protection for your two-legged family members, too.