The time for ticks is upon us! It starts in the spring and continues through summer and sometimes well into autumn. We are currently finding high numbers of American dog ticks on dogs, and also on people. Be vigilant against ticks and check your pets daily!
Below is an updated re-post of a blog by Dr. Jess Franklin.
Tick risk: While one of the ticks common in the warm southeast, Rhipicephahlus sanguineris—the brown dog tick—will reproduce indoors on dogs, ticks in Michigan are mostly acquired outdoors. Dermacentor variabilus, the American dog tick, is the one we are pulling off of dogs at Ann Arbor Animal Hospital this week. Edges of woods and tall grass areas are high risk areas. Ticks looking for a host will hang on grass 6 to 18 inches off the ground.
Protection and avoidance for people: Wear light color clothing, long pants, socks and closed shoes. Keep on paved or mowed walkways. Avoid sitting or lying on the ground. Inspect yourself and your companions for ticks moving on clothing or attached; ticks seem to prefer the head and ears, but can attach anywhere. Outdoor stores sell hats and other garments impregnated with repellents that may decrease the numbers of ticks trying to climb onto humans.
Protection for dogs: None of the oral monthly heartworm preventives (e.g. Heartguard, Sentinel) will repel or kill ticks. However, there are now very effective monthly oral flea and tick medications for dogs; we recommend Simparica for dogs over 6 months of age, and Nexgard for puppies age 2-6 months. For topicals, we recommend Effitix as a flea and tick repellent for dogs; it combines fipronil (the active ingredient of Frontline) with permethrin (an insecticide), and in this combination improves the repellent action, including a label for mosquitoes. There are collars like Scalibor and Seresto as well.
Protection for cats: My very favorite topical flea, heartworm, roundworm and ear mite preventive for cats, Revolution, is only partially protective for ticks. If you find and remove a tick from a cat with outdoor exposure, I recommend using Revolution for monthly multiparasite control and a second topical, Frontline two weeks later as additional tick protection. These two products can safely be used on the same animal in this manner. In areas of the country like the Gulf coast where Cytauxzoonosis is a problem, every outdoor cat needs tick protection with Frontline year-round.
We have a new option as a topical for cats with tick risk. Bravecto is a topical that will give 8 week protection for ticks and 12 week protection for fleas. Since it does not control heartworm, I prefer revolution for cats when fleas and not ticks are the main problem.
Topical or oral meds? A topical repellent like Effitix has excellent flea and tick control and can repel mosquitos as well. It may cause some ticks to try to jump off before they die; for me, this may result in a tick on a seat in the car which later climbs on me, after hiking with the dog and both of us coming home in the car. A potentially major drawback of topicals is that repeated baths or swimming will lower their efficacy.
Oral medications like Simparica and Nexgard have excellent flea control even at the end of the month, do not wash off, and will not, for example, expose the toddler—who is walking along hanging on the dog—to any chemicals. It may cause what I call "crispy raisin" ticks: a small tick may bite the dog and then die and be stuck in the hair and not fall off.
Tick removal: Check your dogs daily. The goal is to remove the entire tick whole. (See the video at the end of the post.) Usually a tiny piece of skin will be pulled off in the tick’s mouth. Blunt tweezers, a special plastic scooping tick remover, or fingers all will work. Wear gloves to prevent exposure to the blood or tick fluids. The site of tick removal may have a firm, somewhat itchy swelling for weeks after the tick has been removed.
Ticks large and small: Larval and nymph ticks have 3 pairs of legs, and are quite small, 1-2mm in length. Adult ticks are larger, with 4 pairs of legs. Ticks swell with feeding. Engorged females may be a pink to pale grey, a smooth glob 8 to 15mm, and larger than a pea, while male ticks remain flat, about 5mm wide.
Ticks are vectors for diseases: Lyme disease is common in the upper peninsula of Michigan, Wisconsin, and the entire east coast. Lyme disease incidence is going up all over, including a few cases in Washtenaw County. Deer ticks, the vector for Lyme, are a small tick, and are present in this area. Our current vaccine for Lyme would require 2 doses for primary series and the annual booster. Lyme vaccine does not replace the need to control and prevent ticks and fleas.
Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis are two tick-transmitted diseases of dogs. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is also transmitted by ticks.
I do not recommend automatic treatment with antibiotics for each dog that has had a tick removed.
Now is the time to discuss tick preventive strategy and the need for tick transmitted disease treatment with your veterinarian.