There are few people who claim they have a favorite tick, but Susan Little, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM from the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University knows hers.
(Right image) Ixodes scapularis, the deer tick or black-legged tick, is the main vector of Lyme disease in the eastern United States
Photo provided by the National Center for Veterinary Parasitology (ncvetp.org), Oklahoma State University
Fast Facts About Lyme Disease (LD)
- LD, caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, is transferred to mammals when a tick bites.
- The tick needs to be attached for around 36 hours before the bacterium can be transmitted.
- LD is most common in the Northeastern and North Central United States and the Pacific coast.
- Ticks most likely to transmit LD are the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and the Western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus)—both often called deer ticks.
“The lone star tick is beautiful, ecologically successful, aggressive, and an extraordinary transmitter of diseases,” shares Little.
Although only Ixodes (pictured above on right), a genus of ticks, transmit the agent of Lyme disease (LD), lone star ticks can transmit other disease-causing organisms to pets and people.
“Ticks can transmit an amazing array of life-threatening disease agents to dogs, cats and humans,” notes Little.
Just because you don’t have a favorite tick doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn what a tick looks like, where they live, and how to avoid tick-borne illnesses like LD.
Where the wild ticks are
Active dogs and owners who enjoy hiking are at a higher risk of LD. Before traveling, camping, or hiking, research your travel destination. “Tick maps” are readily available, including one created by the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC).
“These maps show which states’ dogs are most likely to be infected with the agent of LD and other tick-borne diseases, and the website provides a calculator to help owners determine what their dog’s risk of contracting LD is,” says Little.
But don’t completely rely on the maps, because ticks are on the move.
Little explains, “We are seeing locally acquired cases of LD in dogs and people in places like the mid-Atlantic coast and around the Great Lakes. Just because LD hasn’t been in your area historically doesn’t mean it won’t be there in the future.”
“Ticks really pose a remarkable risk to our patients,” Little warns. To minimize the chances of LD, conduct periodic “tick hunts.” Wearing gloves (humans are also susceptible to tick-borne illnesses), scour the groin, armpits, around the ears, and between the toes where ticks like to hide. Although ticks’ appearances vary markedly, they typically have eight legs, a flat body with an oval shape (unless they have recently had a blood meal), and a small head.
The CAPC recommends protecting pets year-round against ticks with monthly spot-on medications. Some dogs may also benefit from vaccination. The LD vaccine is “non-core,” meaning it is given (following consultation with your veterinarian) on a case-by-case basis based on risk of exposure.
Identifying and Treating LD
If you find a tick on your dog, discuss testing and treatment options with your veterinarian. Without a history of a tick bite, diagnosing LD can be challenging because of the variety of signs that infected dogs can have. The most common signs of LD include lameness, fever, anorexia and lethargy. The bacterial infection can also damage the kidneys, heart and nervous system.
For additional information on LD, identifying ticks, and other tick-borne illnesses, please visit the CAPC, the American Lyme Disease Association, and tickinfo.com.