By JOE LISELLA
ANIMAL CHRONICLES – The recent warm weather has me longing to grab the leashes and take my dogs out to enjoy a hike at one of our region’s beautiful parks. But sure as spring follows winter, our region’s abundant tick population is preparing to make life miserable for both people and our pets.
These stealthy little buggers love to hitch a ride and can be on your clothes for hours before they decide to dig into your skin. Once attached, they inject an anesthetic to prevent you from feeling their bite. Their saliva also contains an anti-clotting agent to keep the blood flowing and anchors the tick in place, making it harder to remove. They are well-engineered to achieve their blood-sucking mission, and if left in place, to put us and our pets at risk of some painful and dangerous health challenges.
For our pets, ticks can hide in fur and not only decide to attach to our dogs and cats but to also hitch a ride inside your home and attach to any human in your home. So it is important to check your pet for ticks after every outing. If you discover one on your pet (or you), removing it as quickly as possible will minimize the chance of disease, as experts believe it takes several hours for a tick to transmit an infection.
In addition to Lyme disease, ticks also carry other illnesses that can cause even worse symptoms. Despite my best efforts to protect her, my Golden Retriever mix Gracie tested positive for erlichiosis — another tick-borne disease that can cause fever, bleeding, poor appetite and lethargy. Fortunately, hers was caught early and a course of antibiotics cleared it up quickly.
For humans, it’s also important to check every time you come in from tick-prone areas, as a single tick bite can lead to Lyme disease or, increasingly in our region, anaplasmosis and babesiosis.
Given the prevalence of ticks in our region, having your pets on flea and tick preventives is extremely important if they go outdoors. There is a wide variety of collars, topical treatments and oral preventives available. For my dogs I’ve had success with topical applications, but if you aren’t certain be sure to ask your veterinarian for recommendations.
If your pet (or you) have a tick attached, it is important to remove it properly. Shield your fingers with a rubber glove or a paper towel. With fine-tipped tweezers, get as close to the skin surface as possible, gently secure the tick and pull straight upward with steady pressure. Don’t squeeze tightly, crush or puncture the tick’s body, as this can squeeze infectious organisms into the bloodstream. Also avoid petroleum jelly, hot matches or alcohol, as these can also irritate the tick, which could increase the chances of infection transmittal.
Once you’ve removed the tick and disinfected the bite site, wash your hands with soap and water, and give your pet a treat for being a good patient.
Your county public health services department has many resources available for preventing and managing ticks, and Schenectady County Public Health Services offers a free tick removal kit, an informative dashboard and great prevention tips at www.schenectadycounty.com/public-health.
Joe Lisella is executive director of the Animal Protective Foundation. APF contributes Animal Chronicles articles and welcomes animal-related questions and stories about the people and animals in our community. Visit animalprotective.org, follow us on social media @AnimalProtectiveFoundation or email [email protected].