Spring is here... officially, at least. Personally, I am anxious to see a little more evidence of its arrival (particular on the thermometer). In the mean time, I am happy to celebrate the diminution of the sizable edifice of sullied snow banks in our back yard - even in spite of the accompanying exposure of evidence of every winter dog walk that I wimped out of because it was just sooo cold! (Was it really THAT many??)
Unfortunately, the warmer weather does bring few other potential perils along with it. April marks the official beginning of what is generally referred to as ‘Heart Worm Season’. To ensure protection against the mosquito borne parasite dirofilaria immitus (aka heartworm) preventives should be started June 1; blood samples for our patients that are due for a heartworm test can be done anytime after April 15. Most of this stuff is old news for many of our clients but if you would like more information about heartworm epidemiology or prevention options and costs please let us know.
Heartworm, though certainly still a valid concern for loving dog owners and their veterinarians alike, to me, is no longer headline material. What is news and what I think we all need to be talking about, are ticks.
Ticks are technically not insects; taxonomically classified closer to spiders and scorpions. On their own, ticks are just kind of gross. They are not poisonous. They don’t infest our living quarters (as long as we don’t call a damp woodpile home). A tick bite is much less likely to cause a local allergic reaction than one from a mosquito or a flea. Severe or anaphylactic reactions to tick bites are rare (hello, bees). So what is the issue – is there a valid reason that tick elicit such reflex heebie-jeebies?
To start, I think there’s just something about a bug that counts on us (or any of our furred family members) for a “blood meal” that drives up the ick meter.
And so it should. Any time a critter engages in blood sucking, there is the potential for disease transmission (think mosquitos and malaria/heartworm or fleas and bubonic plague).
Most of the diseases that ticks can carry are zoonotic; meaning they cause infection in animals and humans. Of all the tick borne illnesses, Lime Disease certainly gets the most press. But ticks are known to carry a whole host of other infectious agents. Among those that there is potential for us to encounter in Southern Onatario, are the bacterium that causes Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis, the protozoal parasite that causes human Babesiosis and organisms that can cause encephalitis. The Public Health Agency of Canada details these diseases on their website – see this article for details: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/id-mi/tickinfo-eng.php - sec-3.
Historically, the risk of contracting these diseases in Canada was said to be low. However, that picture is definitely changing. Experts suggest that increasing climatic temperatures are leading to the spread of ticks to more northern areas, including Sothern Ontario.
This Scientific America articlepresents a rather ghastly picture –
referring to ticks as "Nature’s dirty needle."
During that time, the tick engages in a kind of creepy back-washing that allows the transference of disease from the tick to its victim (and I thought it was gross when my brother back-washed my Coke when I was a kid, in attempt to cause me to abandon it).
When it begins the attachment, the tick is small, but grows significantly as the feeding continues.When the tick completes the blood meal, it disengages and then drops off the host. Some ticks inject a kind of local anesthetic in to the skin so that person or animal can’t feel that the tick has attached itself. If the tick is in a sheltered spot, it can go completely unnoticed.
When the tick completes the blood meal, it disengages and then drops off the host. Some ticks inject a kind of local anesthetic in to the skin so that person or animal can’t feel that the tick has attached itself. If the tick is in a sheltered spot, it can go completely unnoticed. And ticks on a dog are especially easy to miss. When ticks initially attach, they are very small; they grow considerably during the attachment period. As fastidious groomers, cats are less likely to present with ticks though they are not immune to ticks or the diseases that they carry.
It seems everyone these days knows someone who has been living a post Lyme Disease infection nightmare. If not personally, this week’s People Magazine cover introduces us to Canadian Pop Star Avril Lavigne’s terrible ordeal after being infected with Lyme Disease from a tick bite in September of last year.
I think the most unsettling aspect of all of this is just how much we don’t know about these diseases. It seems pretty clear to me that the old ‘ounce of prevention’ adage is one we would do well to keep in mind. Fortunately, the veterinary pharma industry has been listening and is making tick control easy. This season sees the launch of new pharmaceutical products that make tick control easier and more effective then ever. These products generally incorporate flea control too, total bonus. There are a lot of different options available, depending on your personal preferences and on which parasites you are most concerned about protecting against. I have put together a summary chart of the products that are available and the differences between them. There isn't one product that is right/the best for every situation. I have decided to try Advantix plus Heartgard this season for Caddy and Cal; it's ability to deter flies and mosquitos put it over the top for me.
The time is now though, folks. Essentially as we start to see temperatures edge over 4 degrees C, ticks begin trolling for fresh meat in grassy and wooded areas. We found ticks on both Caddy and Cal last year – no doubt acquired during our walks along Etobicoke Creek and in Marie Curtis Park and I have already heard accounts at the dog park of owners having found ticks on their dog already this year. Yikes. Tick tock - here we go....