Common misconceptions about ticks and Lyme disease

Please note: The title of this article in the newspaper is “If there’s deer, ticks and fleas are along for the ride” which was changed from the author’s original title (above) by the newspaper editor and was erroneous.

Dr. Frost and Chili

October 2018 Observer Today Article

By Dr. Rebekah Frost

Lyme disease in our area is on the rise. Lyme disease is the most common tick transmitted disease. Lyme disease can lead to a lifetime of chronic arthritis and kidney failure more common in dogs.

At the Dunkirk Animal Clinic a simple blood sample is taken to see if your pet has developed antibodies to Lyme disease and other tick born diseases. There are many misconceptions that I have heard in the general public when it comes to ticks and Lyme disease. I am going to discuss a few below:

1. My dog isn’t in the woods, therefore they will not get Lyme disease. Ticks can be picked up even in your backyard. The resident white-tail deer population has increased in our small towns. If you have deer coming through your backyard, then you have ticks in your backyard. Ticks will hang out on weeds and grasses waiting for their next host to come along. They will drop onto the pet to get their next meal.

The Ixodes black legged deer tick is the deer tick that can transmit Lyme disease. Other tick species are becoming prevalent in our area and can be picked up in woodpiles. Some species can even live in your own home!

2. My dog is old and is mostly indoors. Just recently our clinic diagnosed three geriatric toy breed dogs with Lyme disease. These dogs live mostly indoors and just go in and out to the bathroom on occasion when they don’t use urine pads. Yet they still managed to pick up Lyme disease from a deer tick. Their Lyme titers were off the charts meaning they had been recently exposed and had very active infections.

3. Flea and tick meds will kill my dog. There are a lot of reports on the internet of new flea and tick medications causing seizures and neurologic issues. We have been dispensing flea and tick medications for years and the only problems we have seen are when the medication is applied to the wrong species or an occasional upset stomach when given the oral chews. Never have we seen seizures or any worse side effects from applying or administering flea and tick medications. Prevention is key! The chance of fleas and ticks killing your dog is high if left untreated. These medications have gone through extensive studies in order to be approved as safe for your pet before they go on the market. Fleas can cause severe loss of blood while ticks can carry not only Lyme disease but other very serious organisms that can lead to either lifelong painful arthritis and kidney failure or worse. Ehrlichia is another dangerous organism transmitted by ticks that can cause low platelet count, spontaneous bleeding, and death.

4. When removing a tick, if you squeeze it while pulling it out, the toxins in the tick will be released. Once the tick attaches, the feeding process alone allows the tick to transmit dangerous organisms responsible for diseases like Lyme disease. Most ticks have to be attached for 24 to 48 hours before they can transmit the organisms. Many ticks go unnoticed because they are the immature form of the tick called the nymph. These nymphs are so small that you cannot see them and they are responsible for many cases of Lyme disease.

5. You must remove the head part of the tick. Do your best to remove the tick from your pets. You can buy tick pullers from pet stores or your veterinarian’s office. If you happen to leave the head parts of the tick do not panic. Eventually the body will naturally shed the remaining parts. The head parts cannot transmit more diseases without the body and it may cause more damage and infection to your pet’s skin if you start digging to find the remaining parts of the tick.

6. A red spot on your dog indicates your dog has Lyme disease. A red spot might just indicate that your pet is reacting to the enzymes released in the tick’s saliva. Ticks actually release a substance similar to lidocaine that helps to numb the area before they attach. If you or your pet has a red ring around the area where the tick was attached that appears days after, then schedule an appointment for your pet to have a Lyme test done.

When in doubt, have your veterinarian examine your pet. A 4dx blood test should be run whenever you find a tick on your pet. Typically four to six weeks after the tick was attached the test may show positive results. Your veterinarian may recommend further testing of the actual titer level and they will most likely prescribe a month of antibiotics. Also discuss in detail what flea and tick preventative is best for your pet!

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