Monday, June 25, 2012

Ticks: They're here and they're not going away!

Your first question may be why is there a picture of some chickens on a blog about ticks?  The answer is quite simple.  I hate ticks.  I don't want to look at them.  So since I don't want to look at them, I figured some of you reading this blog may feel the same.  So here is a picture of some of my chickens.  Although there are other fowl who are perhaps a little better at picking up and eating ticks, chickens are known to eat a few themselves and as far as I am concerned, the only good tick is an eaten tick. I now I can open this blog and happily look at the chickens foraging through the weeds eliminating ticks from this planet.  If you really want to look at some ticks, at the end I will post a really good link with lots of good tick info (identification, how to remove ticks, etc) and a video that talks about black legged ticks (deer ticks) and shows how to remove a tick.

It seems like not a day goes by that the staff at the clinic doesn't field a question or two or three about ticks.  Many of these questions are a source of mild amusement to me.  But don't worry there truly is no such thing as a dumb question except for the one that is not asked.  If I chuckle at your question, it is only because I was once you.  I TOTALLY get where you are coming from because remember, I hate ticks.

I did not grow up with ticks.  I don't think I even saw a tick until I was well into my twenties.  In fact, in my mind ticks were just slow moving spiders and I was terrified of spiders in my youth.  I ran into minor tick encounters when I lived in Columbus, Ohio, but this was only one or two here and there.  And then I graduated vet school and started work at a mixed animal veterinary practice in rural southwestern Pennsylvania.  Of course back then, Lyme Disease was not an issue and the primary tick that we had to deal with was the American Dog Tick, but there were lots of them.  I remember farm dogs walking in the clinic with perhaps 100 or more ticks on them and having engorged female ticks falling off on to the floor as the dog walked through the building.  It was all I could do to not run out of the exam room screaming every time I saw a tick.  But alas, that would not have been very professional and so I sucked up my fear and got over it.  I got a lot of practice removing ticks.  But deep inside, ticks still fill me with disgust.  I'm just really good at hiding it these days.

When I moved to rural northeast Ohio in 1995, I could breathe a huge sigh of relief.  Ticks in this part of the country were few and far between.  But that all changed in 2010.  That was the year that tick reports at the clinic where I worked doubled and they have been going up and up ever since.  That was the year that the black legged tick (deer tick) started showing up in Ashtabula County.  And sorry to say my friends, but there is no going back.  Our days of living the free and easy tick-free life are over.  Time to suck it up and get used to living with these little buggers.

So remember, as I chuckle my way through answers to your questions I am not laughing at you, I am laughing at me.  Because I was you at one time.  And because if I don't laugh, I think I may cry because I hate ticks.

Here are some of the typical questions that I get during a day's work:

My dog had a tick on him and now there is a pimple like lump.  What should I do?  The answer: not much. These nasty critters will leave a small hard lump in the skin where they were attached.  This is normal.  It is kind of like a superty duperty mosquito bite and will sometimes last a couple of weeks.  It will go away.  

I took a tick off my dog and I think the head may have broken off and still be in the skin.  What should I do?  The answer: not much.  If you can see for sure that the head is there, you can grab it with tweezers or something similar and pull it out. If you can't see it, more than likely it is not there.  I find most of the time people think the mouth parts are still there because they feel the hard lump in the skin.  The hard lump is normal even if the tick is removed head and all.  The main reason for wanting to remove the entire tick is to lessen the chance of transmitting disease.  I have heard that in people, leaving the tick's head behind can cause infection, but I can honestly say I have never seen a tick bite on a dog that has gotten infected.  Not to say it can't happen, but it is very rare.  Fortunately, we have primarily dog ticks and black legged ticks around here and they are pretty easy to remove intact unlike their southern cousin the Lone Star tick that has deeply embedded mouth parts.  If you do leave mouth parts behind in the dog's skin, the dog's body will react to it and spit it out in a few days.  Most tick bites in dogs do not itch or bother the dog at all, so if your dog is scratching at a tick bite, that MIGHT be a sign of mild infection.  Call your veterinarian if the skin is red, raw or oozing.

I found 3 ticks on my dog.  What should I do?  The answer: count your blessings.  Remember my story about seeing farm dogs with 100+ ticks on them?  3, 4, 5, 6 ticks, that ain't nothing!  And get used to it because these things are not going way.  On the serious side, if you find ticks on your dog or cat, then you should be practicing some form of tick prevention.  Call your veterinarian.  There are a few different methods of preventing ticks and we can tell you the pros and cons of each.  And remember, some tick preventatives for dogs can kill cats.  So be careful!  Don't use a dog product on a cat.  Use only cat labeled products on cats.

My neighbor told me that I should not have removed the tick myself, but should have taken it to my vet to have the tick removed.  Is that true?  The answer: we are more than happy to remove ticks, but the truth is that ticks are very very easy to remove.  I don't know where all the mystery about tick removal came from, but it is easy folks.  There is a little bit of technique involved, but it is basically grasp and pull (see the video below for a visual guide to removing ticks).  No hot matches, no Vaseline, no finger nail polish.  All you need is something to grasp (tweezers, hemostats - my favorite, tick removal tool) or even your fingers are OK if you wear gloves.  While we may only have to deal with a tick here and there, the time is coming when we all will have to deal with ticks in much higher numbers.  Like I said, we are more than happy to have you bring in your dog and show you how to remove ticks, but you need to learn.  Otherwise, you will be at our office every day at certain times of the year.

My dog got bit by a tick and my neighbor told me I should take my dog to the vet and get it started on antibiotics.  Is that true?  The answer: no it's not true.  Can ticks cause disease that is treated with antibiotics?  yes.  But remember, most ticks, at least in Ashtabula County, do not carry any diseases.  Even if a tick does carry a disease, there are a whole bunch of factors that come into play for a dog to get that disease from the tick. In some areas, if we treated a dog that got tick bites, that dog would be on antibiotics the whole year round and that is not a smart idea either.  The better solution is to watch your dog for signs of illness.  Usually the illness will show up weeks to months after the tick bite.  Watch for things like lethargy and wanting to sleep a lot.  Poor appetite and fever.  Swollen joints and limping.  Then call your vet.  It is true that the sooner treatment is started the better chances are of curing the dog, but it makes little sense to start antibiotics after any tick bite.

For more information on ticks, the Ohio Division of Wildlife has a nice informative web page that discusses everything from tick identification to how to remove a tick. The page also discusses some common myths about ticks.  Follow the link below.

Ohio Division of Wildlife Ticks In Ohio

And for your viewing pleasure, I'll post this video about ticks. It is titled "Beware of ticks in winter", but has some really good information about black legged ticks as well as showing how to remove ticks.  Good info here and well worth the 8 minutes to watch.