OVRS-iStock_000033327372_LargeTicks have been an increasing problem for people and their pets over the past few years. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, reported cases of Lyme disease have almost doubled in two years, with the western region of the state seeing the highest number of incidents. And, while the tick boom has created a worrisome outdoor environment for people, pet owners are also concerned about keeping their pets safe from ticks and the diseases they carry.

Ticks and the Risk to Your Pet

When we speak of the dangers associated with ticks, in most cases, especially here in Michigan, we are speaking about the blacklegged tick (a.k.a. deer tick). While other subspecies of ticks, such as the lone star tick, will attach to your pet, the blacklegged tick is the carrier for Lyme disease.

Both cats and dogs (and any warm blooded animal, for that matter) are susceptible to tick bites and Lyme disease, although it is more common in dogs. Symptoms may not present in the same manner as in humans, but signs to watch for include: fever, swollen joints, lameness, and changes in behavior.

Thankfully, there is a vaccine (although, at this stage it is just for canines) to keep your best friend safe from Lyme disease. However, ticks are known to carry an array of vector-borne illnesses, including ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. This is why prevention is so important in keeping pets free from such diseases.

Safeguarding Your Pet During the Tick Boom

Preventing Lyme and other tick-transmitted diseases relies on a combination of vaccinations, parasite preventives, and pet owner education.

Considering the higher than usual risk of Lyme disease here in Michigan, we urge you to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss those essential preventive measures. Along with your pet’s topical or oral preventive, here are other ways to discourage ticks from attaching to your pet:

  • When hiking or walking with your dog, avoid overgrown grassy areas
  • Thoroughly inspect your pet after each walk or time spent outdoors, paying special attention to ears, base of tail, “armpits” and between the toes
  • Keep your yard well maintained and remove large weeds and grasses, or other bushy areas
  • Ask your veterinarian to examine your pet for ticks or rashes during his or her wellness appointment
  • Read up on ticks and vector-borne diseases on sites such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Bring pets indoors after morning walks or exercise

Safely Removing a Tick

Even with the surest safety measures, you will likely encounter a tick on your pet from time to time. Many pet owners are concerned about how to remove a tick so as not to leave the head or body imbedded in the skin.

Follow these simple steps for safe and easy tick removal.

  1. Use a pair of tweezers and position them as close to the skin and the site of attachment as possible
  2. Pull upward in a straight, steady motion, avoiding twisting or turning the tweezers
  3. Clean the site with rubbing alcohol or a pet-safe soap or disinfectant
  4. Dispose of the tick by burning it or drowning it in alcohol; you can also preserve it in rubbing alcohol if you wish to have it tested for Lyme or other diseases
  5. Monitor your pet for any signs of a developing rash or the ubiquitous “bulls-eye” red mark

Existing with ticks can be tough, especially for those of us who love to be outdoors with our best fur pal during the warm summer months. By taking care of preventive needs, keeping a watchful eye on our pet’s health, and consistently checking for ticks or unusual rashes, you can continue to enjoy all of those summertime activities.