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I Found A Tick On My Pet…Now What!?

Horror of horrors, there’s a tick on your pet!  This can be alarming because ticks are notorious for transmitting diseases.  The most common tick bite diseases for pets in the Northeast are Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis.  These are the things you will want to do to help your pet to remove the tick, treat diseases, and prevent ticks on your pet in the future.

First, get someone else’s help.  Removing a tick from a pet, particularly a wriggly pet that can’t stay still, is a more than one person job.  Besides, you will want the support of others if you’re not particularly fond of creepy crawlies.  Designate one person to remove the tick, and the other person to hold your pet still.  Home alone?  Do not be embarrassed or otherwise afraid to bring your pet to the Suffolk Veterinary Group Animal Wellness Center where our Veterinary Team will happily assist you!  We understand that some people are uncomfortable with the tick removal process, and we don’t judge.  We also know that some pets don’t really understand that you’re only trying to help them, so we have plenty of strong people here for support.

Next, if the tick is embedded or otherwise attached to your pet, remove the tick you have found.  This is easier said than done.  Something that comes in handy is a little device called a “Ticked OffTM” tick remover or similar product.  You can find them in pharmacies, sport stores in the camping department, hardware stores, pet stores, or purchase them online.  They work for both people, and pets, so it is something that should be included in any First Aid kit.  We find this tick remover especially good in removing the head of the tick from the bite location without breaking the tick and leaving the head embedded the way tweezers can.  If you don’t feel capable of removing the tick from your pet yourself, we will be happy to do so for you.  “Ticked OffTM” tick removers are important veterinary instruments, and we keep one in each exam room.

Do Not Attempt To Burn The Tick Off Your Pet!!  Dr. Winkler has a background in emergency medicine, and has seen more than one case of a pet seriously injured by people attempting to burn a tick off.  Burn injuries are much, much more serious than a little tick bite, and with all their fur, pets are highly flammable.  Pouring rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover, or peroxide on the tick may cause irritation to your pet’s skin, and is also not recommended.  Smearing the tick with petroleum jelly is going to do more to gunk up their fur than make a tick back out of a bite.  The best way to remove a tick is with a “Ticked OffTM” tick remover, or a pair of tweezers.

Once you remove the tick, ensure that you removed the head as well.  As often happens, aggressive or improper methods of removing a tick can detach the body of the tick from the head, leaving the head inside the bite wound.  Also, a wiggly pet can jerk at just the wrong moment, also breaking the head.  Placing the tick on a white paper towel and using a magnifying glass can help you see if you have gotten the head, or not, by examining the body and ensuring you see mouth parts.  Place the tick’s body in some rubbing alcohol to kill the tick.

Check your pet over carefully for any more ticks, and remove them as necessary.  Where there is one, there could be more.  Ticks particularly like the areas of skin around and in ears, around collars, in the armpits and groin areas, under tails, between toes, and around the eyes and nose.  You can use a brush to comb through these areas, and part the fur as necessary to see to the skin and check out any lump or bump you find.  Some pets have especially dark pigmented nipples that may appear tick-like upon first glance.  Use a magnifying glass to identify if that black bump you found has wiggling legs or not.  We have had cases of people accidentally remove a pet’s nipple due to mistaking its identity for a tick.  And yes, male pets also have nipples.  If you’re not sure, we at the Suffolk Veterinary Group Animal Wellness Center will be happy to take a look for you. 

If you suspect you’ve left the head in the bite wound, contact us right away so we can aseptically remove the head and clean the wound to prevent infection.  Digging around the wound yourself with a pair of tweezers or a needle may cause your pet pain as well as cause infection.  We’ve got special instruments, as well as pain prevention medication, we can provide your pet to ensure removing remaining tick parts is done with a minimum of discomfort.

If you’re confidant you’ve removed the entire head of the tick, clean the area with soap and water.  Do not allow your pet to lick the location, and have them wear an Elizabethan (cone) collar to prevent licking.  You will need to clean the area regularly to prevent infection.  If you notice your pet is licking the area raw, causing a hot spot, bring them to Suffolk Veterinary Group for immediate care.  If the area becomes red, inflamed, or oozes puss, those are all reasons to get your pet to the veterinarian right away.

Now that the tick is removed from your pet, Call The Suffolk Veterinary Group Animal Wellness Center To Schedule An Appointment For A Tick Disease Screening.  This is the most often missed step when people find ticks on their pets.  It takes approximately 6 weeks for your pet to develop an immune response to a disease they caught from a tick bite that will show up with routine screening, so making sure you schedule an appointment well in advance ensures that it is during a time most convenient for you and your pet. 

While you are waiting for your tick disease screening appointment, be alert to changes in your pet’s behavior, eating habits, and overall health.  Some pets become symptomatic for tick bite diseases before others, while some pets never become symptomatic at all, and we don’t know what sort of response your pet will have if we have no documentation of prior tick exposure in their medical records.  Even if they have had prior tick exposure, their response to a tick bite can be different every time depending upon the disease and their body’s immune system.  If your pet displays any limping, stiffness, lethargy, depression, decreases in appetite and/or drinking, or seems feverish, get them to an emergency veterinarian or Suffolk Veterinary Group right away. 

Pets Do Not Develop The “Bull’s Eye” Rash Associated With Lyme Disease.  In fact, a pet may never develop any rash at all.  Do not wait for a rash to bring your pet to the veterinarian if you notice any of the symptoms listed above.  Your pet can become very sick in a short amount of time.

After six weeks of having no symptoms of illness, you pet will be screened for the three most common tick bite diseases for the Northeast, Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis.  This is a simple blood test to see if your pet’s immune system is producing antibodies due to disease exposure.  It is possible to have more than one, and all three, of these diseases at the same time.

If your pet’s screening result is positive for Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, and/or Anaplasmosis, Dr. Winkler will consult with you regarding any additional diagnostic testing or treatments as they pertain to your pet’s particular illness(es) and lifestyle.

If your pet’s screening result is negative for the above three tick bite diseases, and they continue to show no symptoms of illness, whew, your pet got lucky.  No immediate disease treatments may be necessary, but we will recommend you continue to monitor your pet for symptoms of tick bite diseases.  It may be possible your pet was infected with a rarer tick bite disease, such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis, Bartonellosis, or Hepatozoonosis, which are not tested for with routine tick bite disease screening, so they would require additional diagnostic testing if your pet develops symptoms of tick bite diseases.  With regular, yearly screening for Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis, we will monitor whether your pet is exposed to these three common tick bite diseases in their future.

Finally, the biggest, most effective way to deal with ticks on your pet is to prevent ticks from biting your pet in the first place.  There are a wide variety of tick preventative medications that will protect your pet from tick bites, from topical to collars, and even a new oral medication, that you can certainly find one that fits your budget and lifestyle.  The most frequently recommended medications are K9 Advantix II, Frontline Plus, Nexgard, or Seresto.  They are available over-the-counter, and typically do not require a veterinary prescription to be dispensed.  Prescription strength oral tick preventative medications Bravecto or Nexgard require Comprehensive Physical Exam & Consultations to be prescribed, so ensuring your pet receives a yearly Preventative Wellness Exam will allow your pet to receive these medications.  Save yourself money on your veterinary bills by making sure you use a tick preventative medication All Year Around so as not to give a tick any opportunity to bite your pet.

This is where prevention is much, much less expensive than cure.  Especially in large and giant size pets.  We know a lot of families do not buy tick preventative medications for their dogs that are over 50lbs because of cost, but the treatments for Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis are twice as much as the preventative medications, and acute illness can cause four times the amount of damage to your pet’s body, which will require intensive care for severe cases.  There are also plenty of rebates and coupons through the tick preventative manufacturers, as well as various distributors, that can help reduce the cost of purchase for these medications.  You can visit the websites of tick preventative manufacturers to discover what special offers they have to help you afford this important part of your pet’s wellness.

One of the most common excuses we hear at the Suffolk Veterinary Group Animal Wellness Center for not providing a pet with tick preventative medication is that “my pet stays only in my backyard, therefore I do not need to worry about ticks.”  This belief couldn’t be more misguided. If you live on Long Island, every part of The Island is a tick hot spot, and your backyard is no exception.  Indeed, 90% of our patients that come up positive for the tick bite diseases of Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis during their yearly screenings remain solely in their own backyards, which means their exposure to a disease carrying tick occurred in their backyard.  The remaining 10% of tick bite disease positive patients visit public areas such as dog parks, neighborhood walks around the block, or the yards of family and friends.  Less than 1% of our total patients are actually involved in activities we traditionally associate with increased exposure to ticks, such as hunting, hiking, or camping.  Yet, we’re seeing a huge increase in the number of patients who are positive for the three most common tick bite illnesses when they receive their yearly health screenings, meaning that exposure isn’t limited to participation in “high risk” activities, but is occurring at home.

Another misguided belief is that Long Island winters “freeze out” ticks, thus pets can’t possibly be exposed to tick-bite illnesses during the “cold” months.  The truth is, certain species of ticks, such as the Brown Dog Tick which is responsible for Ehrlichiosis transmission, have no problem living inside houses, where it is nice and warm all year around, without us even knowing it.  Recent research has proven that Deer Ticks, those primarily responsible for the transmission of Lyme Disease and Anaplasmosis, do not hibernate nor experience a die-off during “freezing” winter months.  They are quite comfortable and even active at outside temperatures of 24oF!  But no good winter is without the occasional warm spell when all types of hungry ticks become active in seeking food.  These warm spells mean increased risk of exposure to ticks for your pet, as the ticks are more aggressive when hungry, and more likely to be actively searching for a host rather than passively waiting to ambush them.  They do not have to be long warm spells either; just a few hours are enough for a hungry tick.  Hungry ticks are attracted to body warmth, exhaled carbon dioxide, and vibrations created by movement through underbrush or on the ground, making your pet a huge bull’s eye against the cold backdrop of their own yard.  Hungry ticks are also more likely to crawl into open areas with shorter grass, dirt, or even concrete, in the hopes of having easier access to food.  Once attached, they can feed unnoticed, and drop off the next time your pet goes outside, or drop off in your house to remain comfortable all winter even if the next day “freezes” again.

We hope this information has helped you understand the importance of preventing ticks from biting your pet with the use of a tick preventative medication all year long so that you and your pet do not have to go through the whole tick removal process, and fear of tick bite diseases.  If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact the Suffolk Veterinary Group Animal Wellness Center at 631-696-2400.  

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I want to thank Dr. Winkler and his staff. They are the most compassionate animal care center ever. And when we recently had to put our kitty down, no where else will you receive the compassion they show. God bless them for their kindness and caring hearts.

Barbara B.
Selden, NY

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