Parasites Punching this Summer: Talking Pets June 2019
By Dr. Nichole Brooks
Those creepy, crawly blood sucking parasites are popping up everywhere! Its tick season around here and everyone needs to be ready.
What is a tick? Ticks are considered an arthropod ectoparasite and are an arachnid. They are related to spiders, mites and even scorpions. They feed exclusively on the blood of the animal they land on. On the central coast of California the type of ticks most often identified are the
American dog tick (dermacentor variabilis), the Brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), and the Western Blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus). In brief, the tick has a relatively short life cycle. Adult ticks feed on animals, they lay their eggs in fall, then the eggs hatch into larva, larva feeds on small mammals, larva molts into a nymph, nymph feeds on dogs and spreads infections, nymph molts into an adult tick and feeds on animals again.
So, besides the creepiness and the idea of ticks sucking blood, why worry? When I ask this question, most people respond with Lyme disease, which is true. Ticks carry all sorts of contagious diseases and cause several serious illnesses. Fortunately, many of these diseases we do not see here in Aptos. However, with animals being transported across the country and often internationally we are starting to see pockets of tick borne diseases that are new to California so we should all take the extra step and understand what ticks are capable of and how to prevent them from latching on. Aside from ticks being super gross, why keep them off of us? Its true Lyme is one of many tick borne diseases, but ticks transmit bacteria, rickettsial diseases, fungus, protozoa and possibly viruses. They can also cause a systemic reaction triggering debilitating paralysis, toxicosis, hypersensitivity and anemia.
The diseases often identified from tick exposure include the rickessial diseases: Anaplasmosis and erhlichiosis, Lyme disease, tick paralysis, babeisiosis, “Rocky Mountain Spotted fever”, tularemia and many more according to the CDC and most will affect our pets. The most commonly publicized tick transmitted disease is Lyme disease. Lyme disease is carried and transmitted by the tick species Ixodes. Lyme is caused by a spirochete bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi that is spread by a tick bite, not the tick itself. This bacteria mostly affects dogs and very rarely cats. It causes arthritis pain in the joints due to the bacteria infiltrating into connective tissue, muscles, and lymph nodes. It also can cause a fever, kidney disease, heart problems and neurologic disease. The tick must be partially engorged (filled half way up with blood) for 24 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease to your dog. Most veterinary clinics offer a blood test to screen for the Lyme bacteria. Early diagnosis and treatment can ward off the unwanted side effects of Lyme disease.
Anaplasmosis is another tick disease commonly diagnosed in California and has been identified in Santa Cruz County. It is most often an illness that is “subclinical” or has no symptoms. However, this disease has been reported to cause fever, depression, listlessness, and red eyes. Other reported symptoms are related to the musculoskeletal system, causing lameness. The symptoms occur about 1 to 2 weeks after the tick bite. This illness is also easy to diagnose with a blood test and easy to treat if caught early.
In my opinion the scariest of tick borne illnesses is TICK PARALYSIS!! This has been reported in people too! When the tick bites it injects a toxin into the body that it has attached. The poison that is injected into its host is a neurotoxin called holocylotoxin. In short, this neurotoxin interferes with the release of acetylcholine which stops nerves from working and causes a progressive flaccid paralysis, essentially paralyzing the victim. Not all ticks carry the toxin and research suggests that the toxin may be in varying potencies so prediction and demographics can be complicated.
How do you remove a tick?
It’s a commonly asked question and can be more complicated than it needs to be. If you search on line “how to remove a tick?” There are many, many responses and videos all dictating how this process should be done. To keep this conversation short, when the tick is removed make sure it is dead. If not sure if it is alive or dead it can be simply soaked in a zip lock bag contained with either water or rubbing alcohol. No matter how you decide to remove a tick off your pet one piece of advice is: Do not dig into your pet’s skin to get the head or other parts of the tick out. I can assure you that if you have removed most of the tick…….it is dead. Ticks can’t survive without their head and once decapitated they can no longer bite. Your pet has an amazing immune system to dispose of this foreign tissue. A simple warm compress and some topical antibiotic ointment is quite enough to help your pet with secondary infections from the wound. What damage or disease transmission inflicted has already been done, the tick can no longer spread disease or cause your pet any harm. Digging at a tick site only causes inflammation and infection. I just want to reiterate that again, if the tick is dead it cannot continue to harm your pet. If the bite site becomes infected seek help from your veterinarian to provide treatment and set up time to screen for the contagious diseases spread by tick bites.
Tick prevention for our household pets is fairly easy. Many products include tick prevention with their flea prevention. We have made topical, oral and collars for tick prevention. Check the label of your flea medicine to ensure its full coverage for ticks. Check to make sure it covers ALL kinds of ticks and how long tick prevention persists. Some tick prevention products may last 30 days while others continue to be effective for up to 60 days. Some medicines only protect from 1 kind of tick and some do NOT have any tick prevention at all. Talk to your Veterinarian or a veterinary nurse, they can help you decide what kind of prevention is most appropriate for your pets.
Ticks are problem for everyone, humans and animals. If we keep ticks off our pets, then we can better protect them, ourselves and our families. Remember that tick diseases, even though publicized and many with life altering side effects, if diagnosed early can be cured. Due to the long term and short term side effects of these diseases, we all recommend screening for the most common diseases every year. And remember don’t go after your pets skin for the left over tick parts!