Ticks have long posed both a nuisance and a danger to residents and pets in the Northeast, but this fall, new areas of the country may experience a surge in tick-borne infections. Adult ticks are at their most active during the fall months, and data compiled by the veterinary industry show that dogs in 48 states already have tested positive this year for Lyme disease exposure, signaling a nationwide threat to families and their pets.
Veterinarians across the United States are citing an increase in tick-borne infections in recent years, according to Michael Dryden, DVM, a Kansas State University professor of veterinary parasitology. Researchers attribute tick migrations to warmer temperatures, increasing white-tailed deer populations, reforestation and urban sprawl. Advancements in diagnostic screening have allowed veterinarians to easily track the rise in canine exposure to tick-borne infections around the country.
“Whatever you considered about ticks, their location and tick-transmitted diseases five years ago, it is going to be different today and continue to be different in five years based on these factors,” says Dryden. “Reforestation, changes in agricultural practices and wildlife conservation efforts have contributed to an explosive growth in deer populations — a key factor in the expansion of several tick species’ habitats. There are almost 100 times more white-tailed deer in the United States now than there were 100 years ago.”
More Ticks, More Disease
“One tick species making its way to new parts of the country is the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), the primary transmitter of Lyme disease in eastern North America,” says Dryden. Because the main host for the deer tick is the white-tailed deer, surging deer populations have created unparalleled growth in the spread of deer tick populations.
“Recent data show that deer ticks now can be found from Minnesota to Florida, from Texas to Maine and from Kansas to Virginia,” says Dryden.”That means Lyme disease and/or other diseases associated with the deertick, such as anaplasmosis, may exist throughout all of those regions.”
As tick populations continue to migrate, new diseases are introduced and ticks become more likely to carry and transmit multiple diseases. Matt Eberts, DVM, who practices in the tick-endemic area of Brainerd, Minnesota,is seeing a rise in coinfections, when dogs are infected with more than one tick-borne disease.
“Medical doctors and veterinarians are finding that coinfections in both humans and pets are making treatment for tick-borne diseases more difficult,” said Eberts. “With more ticks carrying more diseases, screeningyour pet becomes all the more important.”
Elimination and Prevention
Tick-borne disease incidence also is rising because people and their pets are spending more time outside, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Due to their furry coats and proximity to theground, dogs are much more likely to be bitten by a tick than their owners.Dogs are also a link between ticks and their human family members becausedogs often play in wooded areas, increasing their exposure to ticks and thechances they’ll carry the ticks into the home environment.
“As family pets, dogs have followed a trend in moving from the backyard to the bedroom in recent years,” explains Eberts. “Dogs and their owners share more of the same space in the home, creating opportunities for ticks to move from pet to owner.”
The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends year-round heartworm, flea and tick preventatives for the life of your dog, for all areas of the country. Eberts recommends tick checks each time your pet comes in from the outdoors, as well as yearly screening.
“Dog owners should not panic,” says Eberts. “But act when your pet picks up a tick, and know there are steps you can take to make sure your pet stays healthy, no matter where you live.”
Dryden adds that pet owners can help protect their families and pets by making sure their homes aren’t attractive to wildlife or ticks. Reducing animal harbor age, such as keeping wood piles away from the house, can prevent a tick host, like a rodent, from being close to your home.
Dog Owner Tips
Dog owners can help protect their pets from tick-borne illnesses by taking these simple steps:
- Talking with their veterinarians about tick-borne diseases in their area;
- Becoming aware of the common signs of tick-borne diseases;
- Asking their veterinarians to make screening for tick-borne diseases routine during annual exams;
- Checking their dogs’ coats daily for ticks and removing them promptly; and
- Using a tick-prevention medication.
- Pet owners can learn more about tick-borne diseases and their dogs’risks at www.dogsandticks.com.
About IDEXX Laboratories
IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. is a leader in companion animal health,serving practicing veterinarians around the world with innovative,technology-based offerings, including a broad range of diagnostic products and services, practice management systems and pharmaceuticals. IDEXXproducts enhance the ability of veterinarians to provide advanced medicalcare and to build more economically successful practices. IDEXX is also a worldwide leader in providing diagnostic tests and information for the production animal industry and tests for the quality and safety of water and milk. Headquartered in Maine, IDEXX Laboratories employs more than 4,000 people and offers products to customers in over 100 countries.