Podcast Transcript: Ticks

Ticks may be tiny, but they can cause big problems. These internal parasites live by sucking blood from mammals including both pets and their human counterparts. Ticks are found in most parts of the United States and can carry several diseases that affect dogs, cats, and people by transmitting microscopic bacteria or organisms into the bloodstream.

In this podcast, we'll talk about tick prevalence, lifecycle, risk factors, clinical signs, and methods of treatment and prevention.

According to Banfield Pet Hospital's Applied Research and Knowledge team, the prevalence of ticks varies according to geographic location with the Southeast region having the highest prevalence of ticks affecting dogs, and with Oklahoma as the leading state. The Northeast has the highest prevalence of ticks affecting cats, with Massachusetts as the leading state.

Banfield's data also shows that May is the peak month for ticks. Most ticks go through four life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. After hatching from the eggs, ticks must eat blood at every stage to survive. When the tick finds a feeding spot, it grasps the skin and cuts into the surface. The tick then inserts its feeding tube. Many species also secrete a cement-like substance that keeps them firmly attached during the meal. The feeding tube can have barbs which help keep the tick in place. Ticks can also produce small amounts of saliva with anesthetic properties so that the animal or person can't feel that the tick has attached itself. After feeding most ticks will drop off and prepare for the next life stage. Ticks can take up to three years to complete their full lifecycle.

Risk factors for tick infestation depend largely on exposure to the tick's environment and the existence of favorable conditions for tick proliferation. These microscopic invaders can cause Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever as well as other diseases such as [something] and Ehrlichiosis. In addition, Banfield's 2011 State of Pet Health Report states that one of the greatest risks that ticks pose to pets is the transmission of Lyme disease. Lyme disease is prevalent across the country with the highest prevalence along the Eastern seaboard, the Great Lakes region, and the West, especially in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington.

All of these ailments can be serious and life-threatening. Some diseases are zoonitic and of concern to humans. Signs of illness vary wildly by disease, but frequently share common themes, which include: lack of energy, fever, skin rashes or itching, decreased appetite or water intake, weight loss, chronic pain associated with arthritis, and bleeding.

Reduction of tick exposure is the single most effective method of disease prevention. Before pets go outdoors, they should be protected with an insecticide that is effective against ticks.

Ticks hide easily on pets that may pick them up by walking through grass, pastures, or wooded areas. If the tick is in a sheltered spot, it can go unnoticed. After such outings, the pet's skin and coat should be carefully inspected.

Prevention of tick infestation involves environmental management, such as erecting fences, cutting grass to reduce access to tick habitat, and chemically treating the environment. Topical medications provide protection against disease-carrying ticks because they repel and kill them thereby reducing risk of disease. If a tick is repelled, it doesn't bite. If it doesn't bite, it can't spread the infectious organisms that cause diseases.

Physical removal of a tick using tweezers within 24 to 48 hours is also thought to prevent most disease transmission. It is important to educate clients on the proper method of tick removal. Explain that to remove a tick clients should grasp the head of the tick with fine-point tweezers as close to the skin as possible. It is important to avoid squeezing the body while applying gentle traction to pull the tick straight out. This should minimize the chance of leaving mouthparts behind.

Effective tick control depends on knowledge of the ticks present in the local area, regular monitoring for ticks, if the location or activities increase risk of infestation, and proactive use of preventive strategies, such as environment control and application of chemical preventives.

Year round prevention for all dogs and cats is recommended. Doctor Jeffrey Klausner, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Banfield, says that veterinary professionals should take the lead in showing pet owners that effective tick control is essential to minimizing the spread of disease and keeping pets and their home tick free. Effective control and prevention is the responsibility of both veterinarians and pet owners, and through an established doctor-client relationship, we can better ensure compliance and proper application of preventive products.

This podcast was created and developed by Banfield Pet Hospital and is brought to you by the Banfield Applied Research and Knowledge team. For additional content, or to view the whitepaper for this topic, please visit Banfield.com.

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