Visiting Veterinarian : Small nuisance, big problem
"No matter what we do, they keep coming back," Dr. Susan Little said gleefully, presenting her program, "Preventing Tick-borne Diseases in Pets and People," to veterinarians on the Cape. Dr. Little, a professor at Oklahoma State University Centre for Veterinary Health Sciences, is a veterinarian, PhD, Diplomat of the European Veterinary Parasitology College, board member of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), and president of the American Association of Veterinary Parasitologists. The woman knows her ticks.
Ticks of many types are expanding their ranges due to biogeographical changes. Environmental successes, such as reforestation programs, reduction in pesticide usage, conservation of wildlife habitat, and reintroduction of native species like wild turkeys and deer, while positive in the big picture, also lead to increasing tick populations. People used to live concentrated in cities and towns, but nowadays many more live in rustic environs, in much closer contact with nature. "There are no ticks in a Walmart parking lot," Dr. Little says. "We have to balance the way we want to live in a natural environment while protecting ourselves and our pets from ticks."
Now clients say to me, "My dog doesn't need tick products. He had a Lyme vaccine."
I'm glad he did, but Lyme vaccination has, at best, 85 percent efficacy in preventing Lyme, and does nothing to protect against Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Tularemia, or tick paralysis, all tick-borne diseases we see on the Vineyard. Besides, about 70 percent of pet owners sleep with their pets, and I'll bet you are not vaccinated against Lyme disease.
"But my dog never goes in the woods, or even to the beach," you protest.
You don't have to go hiking at Cedar Tree Neck to have a problem. Brown Dog Ticks will actually set up housekeeping indoors, living and breeding in carpets and furniture, and an adult Brown Dog Tick can live 568 days!
"Okay," you acquiesce. "I'll use something during tick season."
The reality is at least one species or stage of tick is out at any given time of year. I have seen live, engorged ticks on my patients in February during a blizzard.
"My dog is a Mexican Hairless Chihuahua," you continue. "I do a thorough tick check every day."
That's laudable, but while you may find the bloated tick on Fluffy's ear or even the tiny one crawling across Baldy's back, there's just no way to spot every miniscule nymph or larval tick, even on a Mexican Hairless. Therefore, the CAPC advises year-round monthly prevention.
"I don't want my pet or family exposed to all those chemicals," you protest.
I understand. I have the same concerns. If you lived in an apartment in Manhattan, I might downplay the need for tick control. But consider this. Almost one third of the dogs in Barnstable County have evidence of exposure to Lyme and Anaplasma. The numbers are likely even higher on Martha's Vineyard, and where your pets go, you go. I bet you know someone whose life has been severely impacted by Lyme disease. Human anaplasmosis can have a five-percent fatality rate. These aren't diseases we want to mess with.