I thought we should talk about parasite prevention. In our dogs and cats we have two areas of concern, external parasites; fleas, ticks, skin mites, and a variety of internal parasites which we will discuss in another post. We discussed skin mites in an earlier blog.
In Tucson Arizona we sometimes feel cursed by hot dry weather and it seems that our pets are victims of our environment when they succumb to Valley Fever, or when they are bitten by a rattlesnake. However, our payoff is that we rarely encounter fleas on our pet dogs or cats — and for those of you who have lived with flea infestations in other parts of the country you know that is a nice trade off. So for the purpose of this discussion we will focus on ticks, and discuss the concerns of tick borne illness and ways to prevent tick bites or infestations. In Arizona our most common tick is the Brown Dog Tick, Riphicephalus sanguineus. This tick can be a vector for Ehrlichia canis, the bacterial cause of Tick Fever, and for Rickettsia rickettsia, and the agent for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or RMSF. Both of these infections can cause serious or life threatening symptoms in our dogs, among the symptoms are fever, joint swelling, low platelets and blood clotting disorders, and neurologic illness. RMSF appears to be increasing in its prevalence in Arizona since the mid-1990s and it is being monitored by the state and federal epidemiologists because of its ability to infect humans, particularly young children. In some parts of Arizona – on central and southern Arizona Native American communities, the resident dog populations have been tested to discover 30-50% have RMSF antibodies. This is a large increase above rates of positive dogs tested before 1996. There is speculation that environmental changes including persistent drought, and large forest fires, may have caused movement of infected ticks through their wildlife host, or from displaced domestic animals and their families.
Within the city limits we have found a wide variability of tick exposure for our pet dogs. Some backyards have them and many do not. Certainly we increase the risks to our pets when we leave the home environment to go for walks or interact at the dog park. Our risks are higher when we travel outside of town particularly when we go camping or hiking in the wilderness. In addition our warm climate means that our tick season can be variable and extended.
If you take your dog on hikes in overgrown areas or if they are dog park socialites, I recommend giving them a very close tick inspection every time you come home. If you find a tick, the best advice is to try to remove the entire bug with slow gentle traction on the attached head. Using alcohol or Vaseline or a lighted match are not effective at making the tick back out, and may incite them to release more bacteria into your pet.
There are some natural remedies that we have heard of for tick and flea repellency, including garlic, brewer’s yeast and topical essential oils like clove or tea tree. In my experience these methods are not effective when significant tick environments are encountered. Products like Frontline, Vectra, Advantix, and Certifect are used topically once a month to prevent and repel fleas and ticks. The only tick collar we recommend is a product called Preventic Collar with Amitraz. Some of these products are dangerous around cats (Vectra and Advantix), and many people are cautious about using topical insecticides on their pets. This is one of those cases when the benefits may outweigh the risk of tick bites particularly when a bite may transmit a serious illness.