After several weeks of bitter cold and lot of shoveling, we are all ready to embrace the longer days and warmer temperatures. Unfortunately common pests, namely fleas and ticks, have been waiting for the warmer weather as well.
In central Iowa ticks will become active whenever the weather is above 45 degrees, even if it is only for a few days in a row. If there is a cool down after a warm day, they simply go dormant again and wait for the next sunny stretch. Some years this can mean we see ticks on pets in January or February, but generally we need to be most vigilant from March until November. The tick-transmitted disease we diagnose most often in this area is Lyme disease, which is caused by bacteria (called Borrelia burgdorferi) carried by deer ticks (Ixodes species). In order for a tick to transmit a Lyme infection to a dog it must be attached to the skin for 24 to 48 hours. Other tick borne diseases we see infrequently in the area are Erhliciosis and Anaplamsmosis. Some pets will act sick when infected with these diseases but others can act completely healthy after infection.
Thankfully there is a single blood test than can look for all three of these tick borne diseases at most veterinary clinics. Avoidance is always better than treatment, so regularly keeping your pet on a good tick preventative is the best plan. There is a Lyme disease vaccine available to our canine friends but it is not 100% effective at stopping infection, so this should be a backup plan to regular tick control. Think of preventatives as the seat belt you use every day and the vaccine as an airbag you hope you never have to use. Tick exposure usually happens outside, so depending on lifestyle some dogs are at a lower risk for tick bites than others.