Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases-Keeping You and Your Dog Healthy

Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases

Tips for Keeping You and Your Dog Healthy

By Don Hanson, PCBC-A, BFRAP

< A version of
this article was published in the MAY
2024 issue of Downeast
Dog News
>

< Updated 2024-05-13 >

< The link for this page – https://forcefreepets.com/ticks-and-tick-borne-diseases-keeping-you-and-your-dog-healthy/>

When my wife and I moved to Maine in 1995, we were excited about many things. The low incidence of ticks and tick-borne diseases was high on the list. Back in Wisconsin, we spent many weekends birding and picking ticks off one another at the end of the day. Paula worked at a veterinary clinic in a Lyme disease hotspot, and many of their canine clients tested positive for Lyme. We were glad to put ticks behind us.

Unfortunately, preliminary data for Maine for 2023  indicates 2943 cases of Lyme Disease, 777 of Anaplasmosis, and 194 of Babesiosis. Counties with the highest incidence are:

  • Lyme Disease (Knox, Waldo, Hancock, Lincoln, & Sagadahoc)
  • Anaplasmosis (Lincoln, Knox, Waldo, Hancock, & Sagadahoc)
  • Babesiosis (Lincoln, Knox, Sagadahoc, Waldo, & Hancock)

– (https://data.mainepublichealth.gov/tracking/tickborne).

In 2021, the Federal CDC indicated that the actual burden of Lyme disease may be more than ten times the number of reported cases. The incidences of other tick-borne diseases are likely underreported as well.

Our Personal Experiences with Tick-Borne Diseases

In 2014, Paula was diagnosed with a tick-borne disease, followed by me in 2015. Neither of us had the traditional bullseyes rash. While we had some aches and pains, we attributed it to getting older. It was only when we combined that with symptoms such as mental fog and fatigue that we sought diagnosis and treatment. We were treated and cured.

A friend suddenly became very ill and was diagnosed with Lyme disease in this same period. She was treated but unable to work for several weeks and needed to use a walker for a while. She, too, recovered.

In January 2017, our dog Muppy tested positive for Lyme on a routine screening during her annual wellness exam, even though she showed no apparent symptoms. Typical symptoms for dogs include periodic lameness or fever, variable appetite, or behavioral changes. Her veterinarians recommended a more advanced test, the Lyme Multiplex assay from Cornell University. This test indicated high numbers for possible past exposure, so we were advised to practice tick control (see below), monitor for symptoms, and re-test in 6 months. Continuing testing for the disease and other bloodwork was necessary as tick-borne diseases can cause chronic kidney disease.

Late in the summer of 2018, Muppy began exhibiting atypical anxious behaviors: hesitant to approach certain known people, including Paula and me, afraid to come down the stairs, trembling, and fearful of entering the kitchen where she was fed. Knowing how behavioral symptoms were how we experienced tick-borne disease, I took Muppy to her vet, who ordered an Idexx Tick/vector Canine Comprehensive RealPCR™ Panel with Lyme Quant C6® panel. This panel tests for Anaplasmosis spp., Babesia spp., Bartonella spp., Ehrlichia spp., Hepatozoon spp., Leishmania spp., Neorickettsia risticii and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Based on the results, Muppy was treated for Lyme Disease, and her symptoms were gone within a month. In February 2019, at her annual wellness exam, she was clear of Lyme and received her first Lyme Disease vaccine to prevent future infections.

In the late spring of 2021, Muppy again expressed behavioral symptoms like those when she was diagnosed with Lyme. Her vet ordered the same test noted above, and this time, she tested positive for Anaplasma. She was treated and again was clear of all symptoms.

Two summer residents called me a few years ago because their dogs had suddenly exhibited aggressive behavior. I always require prospective clients to see their veterinarian first to ensure their dog has no underlying medical issues that could cause a behavior change. Because these two clients lived in an area with a high incidence of tick-borne disease, I encouraged them to ask their vet to run the same test we ran on Muppy. Both dogs tested positive, were treated, and the aggressive behavior was resolved.

The following tables indicate the types of ticks you need to worry about in Maine, the diseases they may carry, and when they are active. The following table lists the currently known tick-borne diseases and their symptoms.

*From Tick-Borne Diseases in Maine – A Physician’s Reference Manual, June 2012, – https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/vector-borne/documents/tick-reference-guide.pdf

Keeping You and Your Dog Safe from Tick-Borne Diseases

While most cases of tick-borne disease can be successfully diagnosed early, some can result in highly debilitating chronic disease and even death. Please educate yourself about ticks, their habitat, the diseases they carry, and the symptoms they cause before you or your dog are bitten.

Tick Prevention for Your Home

  • Deer, mice, and other small rodents play a significant role in the spread of tick-borne diseases, so do your best to keep these animals out of your yard. You may even wish to work with a licensed pest control expert to minimize the rodent population around your home. Bait boxes that apply a tick repellent to mice as they eat the bait can be installed, which helps kill the tick population.
  • Wood piles should be as far away from your home as possible, as they provide habitat for mice.
  • Bird feeders should also be moved far from the house as they attract birds and small rodents that may carry ticks.
  • Keep the lawn cut short, even the edge where long grass may poke through the fence. Ticks like to crawl up on the leaves and latch on as we or our dogs brush against them. For several years, we have had the yards around our home and business treated with a tick repellent by a licensed pest control service once a month, from April through November. Different companies use different products, so I recommend you ask questions so they can use a product compatible with your ecological ethos. In our experience, we are seeing fewer ticks and fewer mosquitoes. More importantly, none of us, our team, or our pets have contracted a tick-borne disease since we began doing this.
  • If your yard is huge and you do not want to treat it all, you can use crushed stone to create a barrier around your yard. Based on my research, a barrier 3 feet wide is the most recommended. Keep it free of grass clippings and leaf litter, which will help keep ticks from crossing into the yard.
  • In the fall, keep fallen leaves raked up and remove them regularly. Mice and ticks both hide in leaf litter. I believe leaf litter was why Muppy was bitten when she got Lyme disease.

Tick Prevention for You and Your Dog

  • Avoid areas that you suspect may be infested with ticks.
  • If you must venture into tick habitat, do so at the hottest and driest time of day.
  • Avoid areas with tall grass, brush, and leaf litter and walk in the center of trails. Even if allowed, I would not let my dog off-leash in this area.
  • This is for people only. Wear light-colored clothing, tuck your shirt into your pants, and tuck them into your boots.
  • Carefully review recommendations for the safe usage of any tick repellents, including known side effects.
  • If your dog spends time in tick-infested environments, consider vaccinating it for Lyme disease. However, understand that this does not offer protection against other tick-borne diseases.
  • When you get home, do a thorough exam to check for ticks on yourself and your dog. I love dogs of all coat types and colors, but a small, light-colored, short-coated dog has many advantages when searching for and finding dark-colored ticks as small as a poppy seed. Ticks will most likely attach in the following areas: in and around ears, on your head, around the hairline, armpits, bellybutton, waistline, groin, legs, behind knees, and between toes.

If You Have Been in An Area with Ticks or Find One On You

If a tick has bitten you and you exhibit any symptoms of tick-borne disease, as noted above, I recommend that you see your family physician. While tick-borne diseases are typically not fatal, they can cause chronic, life-changing diseases the longer you are infected.

If you find a tick on you or your dog, before or after they have latched on to you:

Don, What Do You Do for Muppy? (Added 2024-05-13)

Since I first posted this article, many who have read it have asked; What do you do for Muppy? You can find the answer below.

Muppy’s Flea and Heartworm preventative: I use Sentinel ( https://www.sentinelpet.com/ ). It’s a once-a-month chew for heartworms, tapeworms, whipworms, roundworms, and fleas. It’s been around since the 90s and was initially called Program. I believe it is the safest alternative. The primary ingredient for flea prevention is Lufenuron, which is classified as an insect development inhibitor (IDI). It works by inhibiting an insect’s ability to produce chitin. Chitin is part of an insect’s skeleton and egg case. It ends the flea life cycle. Since chitin is not found in the mammalian body, it is safe. Note it does not kill living fleas. Also, unlike many flea products, it remains as effective today as it was initially introduced. There is an excellent article on Lufenuron at https://www.dvm360.com/view/lufenuron-the-miracle-you-may-have-forgotten. I choose not to use some of the more advanced flea and tick treatments due to the large number, in my opinion, reports of adverse events at the FDA ( https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/fact-sheet-pet-owners-and-veterinarians-about-potential-adverse-events-associated-isoxazoline-flea ). 

Muppy & Tick Prevention: As discussed in my article, our primary strategy for preventing ticks is controlling the environment. We keep the grass short, even along the fence line, and keep leaves picked up in the fall. We do not treat our lawn with any chemicals except that applied for tick control. It is applied by Heaven’s Best Pest Control (  https://www.heavensbestpestcontrol.com/, contact – michael@heavensbestpestcontrol.com ). It is an organic product, primarily various essential oils, that is a minimum-risk pesticide. As an additional preventive, I add Bor-L-Immune, available at Green Acres Kennel Shop and made here in Maine by Sustenance Herbs ( https://sustenanceherbswholesale.com/blogs/news/bor-l-immune-peace-of-mind-during-tick-season ) to each meal. 

Recommended Resources

Anaplasmosishttps://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/vector-borne/anaplasmosis/index.shtml

Babesiosishttps://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/vector-borne/babesiosis/index.shtml

Ehrlichiosishttps://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/documents/Ehrlichiosis-FS.pdf

Hard Tick Relapsing Fever (Borrelia miyamotoi disease)https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/vector-borne/borrelia-miyamotoi/

Lyme Diseasehttps://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/vector-borne/lyme/index.shtml

Powassan virus diseasehttps://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/vector-borne/powassan/index.shtml

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever – https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/vector-borne/rmsf/index.html

Tularemia https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/zoonotic/tularemia.shtml

Don Hanson lives in Bangor, Maine, where he is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) and the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. He is a Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (PCBC-A) accredited by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB) and a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP). Don is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), serving on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairing the Advocacy Division. He is also a founding director of Pet Advocacy International (PIAI). In addition, Don produces and co-hosts The Woof Meow Show podcast, available at http://bit.ly/WfMwPodcasts/, the Apple Podcast app, and this blog. The opinions in this article are those of Don Hanson.

© Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved

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