As temperatures warm up, you and your pet will likely spend more time outside enjoying our beautiful state. Unfortunately, you’re not the only one who appreciates the lush New York state landscape. Forested areas, tall grasses, and dense vegetation are prime real estate for ticks, and if you aren’t careful, your pet may unknowingly provide these tiny terrors with their next meal. Ticks are small, but they pose a big threat to pets because they can cause serious illness. Our Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic team explains precautions you can take to prevent tick bites and what to do with a tick you find on your pet.

What risks do ticks pose to pets? 

A tick can cause serious, life-threatening conditions, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and ehrlichiosis, that they transmit to your pet when they bite. 

  • Lyme disease — Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that spreads when an infected black-legged tick—the most common tick in New York, commonly called a deer tick—bites your pet. Unlike humans, who experience a bullseye-shaped rash, Lyme disease signs in pets include lameness, joint swelling, fever, fatigue, and loss of appetite, and severely affected pets may experience chronic pain and joint, kidney, heart, and nervous system damage. Lyme disease can be fatal when the kidneys are involved.
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever —In the eastern United States, the American dog tick most commonly transmits this disease, which is caused by rickettsia bacteria and can cause severe signs, such as high fever, swollen joints, enlarged lymph nodes, organ damage, and bleeding problems. Infected dogs have a mortality rate up to 10%.
  • Ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis — These bacteria are transmitted by the brown dog tick and can cause fever, lymph node swelling, and low platelet counts. Chronic cases can result in organ enlargement, severely low platelets, eye inflammation, meningitis, and kidney failure. 
  • Allergic reaction — Some pets have an allergic reaction to tick bites, which results in swelling, redness, and itching at the bite site. In severe cases, they may develop hives or anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.
  • Tick paralysis — Certain tick species secrete a neurotoxin that can cause paralysis in pets. Tick paralysis signs include weakness, loss of coordination, and difficulty breathing, and, if not treated promptly, death may occur.
  • Infection —  A tick bite can lead to a localized infection at the bite site, which may cause redness, swelling, and pain, and require antibiotic treatment.

What should I do if I find a tick on my pet?

You must find and remove ticks quickly to prevent transmission of tick-borne diseases. Here’s how to check your pet for ticks and what to do if you find one: 

  • Feel your pet’s entire body —  Run your fingers slowly over your pet’s entire body, including under their collar, their legs and tail, the groin area, between their toes, and on their eyelids. If you feel a bump, check for a burrowed tick. 
  • Use tweezers — Once you identify a tick, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your pet’s skin as possible. Then, slowly and steadily, pull the tick straight out, taking care not to twist or jerk the tick, because the mouth parts may break off and remain embedded in your pet’s skin.
  • Clean up — After removing the tick, clean the bite site with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Keep the tick in a sealed bag or a container with isopropyl alcohol, and note the date you found the creature, so you can help your veterinarian diagnose your pet if they later show signs of a tick-borne illness. 
  • Monitor your pet —  Monitor your pet for illness signs or allergic reactions that canl occur days after the bite. Common tick-borne disease signs include
    • Lethargy
    • Fever
    • Lameness
    • Abnormal bruising or bleeding
    • Joint pain
    • Decreased appetite
    • Enlarged lymph nodes
    • Vomiting and diarrhea

How can I reduce my pet’s risk?

Prevention is key to protecting your pet from tick-borne diseases. Take these proactive steps to help ensure your pet’s good health:

  • Parasite prevention —Administering parasite preventives year-round is the best and easiest way to ensure your pet has effective, uninterrupted protection. Topical or oral formulas that provide 30 to 90 days of protection are available.
  • Avoid tick-heavy areas — Keep your yard clear of leaf litter and your grass cut short. If you walk through wooded areas with your pet, stay in the center of the trail. Always check your pet thoroughly after visiting a common tick habitat. 
  • Consider the Lyme vaccine — If your dog frequently encounters ticks, consider the Lyme disease vaccine that works against the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. The vaccine does not provide full protection, however, and you will still need to use a tick preventive to ensure your pet does not contract other tick-borne diseases. 
  • Annual screening tests — If your pet is regularly exposed to ticks, your veterinarian should screen them annually for tick-borne diseases. The test can be performed at the same time as their yearly heartworm test. 

Administering your pet’s parasite preventives and checking them for ticks regularly can help prevent the transmission and spread of tick-borne disease. If you need help removing a tick, or your pet starts showing illness signs following tick removal, contact our team at Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic as soon as possible.