Once Unheard of Tick Now at the Center of Springtime Health Concerns
BOSTON, March 31, 2016 – Massachusetts’ barely-there winter was a boon to those seeking reprieve from last year’s historic snowfall, but warm temperatures and sparse cold snaps drove a surge in the population of disease-carrying “Lone Star” ticks, which for several years have been on the march from their native Texas, according to veterinarians at the MSPCA’s Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston.
“Attacks in Swarms”
The Lone Star tick has taken its place alongside more common ticks that predominate in New England, including the Wood (American Dog) and notorious Deer (Blacklegged) tick, which carries Lyme disease. The Lone Star tick travels three times as quickly as the Deer tick, boasts excellent vision—unique among ticks, most of which have no eyes at all—and attacks in swarms, making them especially dangerous to pets.
According to Dr. Virginia Sinnott of Angell’s Emergency & Critical Care Unit, the numbers indicate that the threat of illness posed by these and other ticks is becoming more serious every year.
“During the fall-winter of 2015 we treated 87 dogs for suspected or confirmed tick-borne illness, and that number jumped to 196 during the same period in 2016—a 220 percent increase in just one year,” she said. “These ticks are on the move and we need to be proactive about protecting our pets.”
Ruth Ricker of Boston knows all too well the danger posed by ticks. Her dog, “Comet,” was treated at Angell in the fall of 2015 for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a sudden and severe flu-like illness that can last for weeks and is sometimes fatal.
“Comet went from happy and playful to lethargic and seriously ill—seemingly overnight,” said Ricker. The dog was treated with antibiotics and ultimately recovered.
“I’m much more tick-aware now. I hadn’t realized that an on-leash city dog would need year-round tick prevention. Now I make sure to apply the tick preventative monthly to reduce his chances of getting so sick again. I’m so grateful to the Angell staff for diagnosing and treating Comet so quickly.”
Prevention: The Best Defense
According to Dr. Sinnott, the establishment of the Lone Star tick in New England means pet owners must take extra precautions to safeguard the health of their animals.
“The Lone Star tick transmits very serious diseases in addition to spotted fever, including Ehrlichiosis, an infection of the white blood cells that can lead to joint pain and lameness in dogs, and can be fatal if untreated.”
Moreover, keeping these ticks off dogs helps protect families. “It’s essential to keep ticks out of our homes as their bite can infect us just as they can our dogs,” said Dr. Sinnott. “By protecting pets we’re protecting ourselves as well.”
While there is no way to completely eliminate the chances of pets coming into contact with ticks, there are measures every pet owner can take to reduce the likelihood of illness. Angell’s prevention protocol centers on the following recommendations:
- Use an over-the-counter tick preventative all year long such as Frontline, Advantix or Merck’s Bravecto for dogs—and keep cats exclusively indoors (which is safer for them generally, and all but eliminates their risk of tick-borne illness)
- Walk dogs on hard surfaces or well-worn paths. “Dogs love going into the woods and that’s a stimulating exercise that we should not deny to them—but keeping them out of the bushes, where most ticks reside—will significantly reduce their exposure,” said Dr. Sinnott
- Keep the edges of your property free of debris such as piles of leaves and brush, which offer safe shelter to ticks of all varieties
- Learn how to remove embedded ticks. “This can be tricky and the key is to ensure no part of the tick remains under the skin,” said Dr. Sinnott. Her instructions are as follows:
- Use tweezers to grasp the tick very close to the skin and, with one steady motion, pull the tick’s body away from the skin. Try not to crush the tick as this can lead to infection.
- After removing the tick, clean your pet’s skin with soap and warm water and dispose of the tick by placing it in alcohol or flushing it down the toilet
- Have your pet tested annually for tick-borne diseases—and have urine protein levels evaluated if your dog is or has been positive for Lyme disease. “This is an added cost for pet owners, but nipping these diseases in the bud is not only much healthier for pets but less expensive than treating disease in an advanced stage,” said Dr. Sinnott.
- Know the primary signs of most tick-borne illnesses: flu-like symptoms, lameness, decreased appetite and generally seeming unwell. If any of these symptoms are present, call your veterinarian immediately.
For more information about keeping pets safe from ticks click here. For more information about Angell Animal Medical Center’s Emergency and Critical Care Services click here.
Angell Animal Medical Center cares for more than 50,000 animals every year and is one of the most acclaimed veterinary practices in the country. Angell’s76 doctors, including 36 board-certified specialists, work as a team to ensure high quality general wellness, emergency and specialty care. With 36 board-certified specialists and medical capabilities that include nuclear medicine and high speed 3D imaging, Angell is committed to providing a broad range of specialized expertise and experience, and delivering this care with one-on-one compassion that animals and their owners deserve. Angell at Nashoba provides low cost basic veterinary care for low income pet owners while Angell’s Boston and Waltham locations are open for emergencies 24 hours of every day of the year, and offer night and weekend appointments with our specialty services.