Eighty percent of human vector-borne diseases (infections transmitted to humans by blood-feeding mosquitos, fleas and ticks) are caused by ticks and the Companion Animal Parasite Council reports there was a 37% increase in Lyme disease cases between 2015 and 2019. Protection from ticks, the pesky parasites that transmit Lyme disease, is especially important so here are three ways to safeguard your family:
- Protect you and your four-legged family members from tick bites. Ticks thrive in grassy or wooded areas, particularly those with humidity and moisture. When enjoying the outdoors, it’s best to avoid walking through long grasses or tall bushes, so keep to the center of trails and walk on sidewalks or cleared paths whenever possible. Ticks will attach to exposed skin so wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and tucking pants into shoes or boots are also recommended.
EPA-registered insect repellents are most effective in protecting humans from tick bites and contain ingredients including DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535. In addition, clothing can be sprayed with permethrin which repels and kills ticks. For pets who are outside for any length of time, our doctors recommend year-round administration of canine oral Bravecto that is effective for 12 weeks, and topical feline Bravecto Plus that is effective for two months. Owners of dogs who spend a considerable amount of time outdoors in woody or grassy areas should strongly consider having Fido vaccinated annually against Lyme disease.
- Perform daily checks and safely remove attached ticks. Once indoors, check your body for ticks between the legs, around the waist, at the back of the knees, under the arms, along your head and in your hair, and in and around the ears. Wearing light-colored clothing while outdoors can help you quickly spot ticks, which are typically a darker color. Your four-legged family members should be checked for ticks in and around the ears, eyelids and tail, under the collar and front legs, and between the back legs and all toes. Remember to check your pet’s leash, collar and sweaters/jackets as well. Prompt removal is vital because ticks can begin transmitting diseases in as little as 48 hours.
To safely remove a tick from you, Fluffy or Fido, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible with fine-tipped tweezers. Use steady, even pressure to pull the tick upward and away from the skin. Twisting or sharply tugging the tick can cause its mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin. Using nail polish, nail polish remover, petroleum jelly or a flame to remove a tick is ineffective. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with antibacterial soap and water. Live ticks should be disposed of by placing them in a sealed container.
- Use landscaping to create a tick-safe zone. Tick populations in your yard can be reduced by frequent lawn mowing and leaf raking, placing playground equipment, decks and patios in a sunny location away from trees and yard edges, and clearing brush and tall grasses from around the home. Creating a 3-foot wide wood chip or gravel barrier between wooded areas and the lawn, patios or play equipment may also help deter ticks from frequently populated areas.
Despite these tick bite prevention efforts, if any of your human family members experience a fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes and/or a bullseye-shaped rash, please contact your health care professional immediately. Dogs and cats with decreased appetite and/or energy levels, lameness or generalized stiffness or joint swelling should be examined by a veterinarian as soon as these symptoms are recognized.
If you have any questions or need more information about Lyme disease in pets or the best methods for protecting your four-legged friends from tick bites, please call us at 630-598-0600.