As the weather cools, many reinvigorated Barkers are heading to the hiking trails with their pups. Disease bearing ticks have been there all summer - actually they have become year 'round scourges in the Northeast.
Brooklyn Bark caught up with Dr. Chris of North Slope Veterinary who shares that he gets questions from patients about ticks all year.
Brooklyn Bark: Are there ticks in Brooklyn? Do they spread disease? Dr. Chris: Yes, there are ticks in New York City and Brooklyn. The most common tick is the American Dog Tick. These ticks spread Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever which can cause tick paralysis. I have not seen any reports of Deer Ticks, the kind that spread Lyme disease, in Prospect Park, although Lyme infected ticks have been found in the Bronx and Staten Island. If your dog travels around the Northeast outside of the city then they are likely to encounter lots of deer ticks and potentially Lyme, as both are endemic in Upstate New York, New England, and Long Island.
BBark: What should I do if I find a tick on my dog? Dr. Chris: If you are comfortable trying to remove it yourself then that is the best course of action. The whole tick can usually be removed with tweezers. It is best to grasp at the point of attachment because it is easy to separate the tick’s body from its head and inadvertently leave the head behind. If you are not comfortable doing this you can call your veterinarian or ask a brave neighbor for help.
BBark: The internet says I should freak out if I leave the tick head behind. Should I?! Dr. Chris: No, your dog’s immune system is usually strong enough to take care of a tick head stuck in the skin. Often a little lump will form there while the immune system breaks down the tick head. There is some small risk of a local skin infection so if a tick head is left in your dog’s skin, your veterinarian may prescribe some topical medication to help out. I have never seen a dog have serious complications or illness from a tick head in the skin.
BBark: What about Lyme and other infectious diseases? Dr. Chris: This is the greater concern with tick attachment. Ticks spread a number of infectious diseases including Lyme, Ehrlichia, Anaplasma and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. They are a concern in both human and animal medicine, with Lyme being the one that gets the most press. Many dogs are tested for exposure to these diseases when they get their annual heartworm test. However it is important to remember that exposure does not equal infection. Many more dogs test positive for exposure than are actually infected. Testing for true infection, as opposed to just exposure, is very difficult.
Your veterinarian can help you with decisions regarding further testing and treatment if your dog tests positive for exposure.
BBark: Sounds complicated. Dr. Chris: It is complicated. The fact is that Lyme disease is still not well understood in both dogs and people. Preventing and removing ticks is the most important line of defense.
BBark: How do I keep my dog from getting ticks? Dr. Chris: The easiest way is with monthly flea and tick preventative medication, which is prescribed by your veterinarian. These are either applied topically on your dog’s skin or given by mouth. While these medications are very good at preventing fleas, I have found that dogs on these products still get the occasional tick. Although it is not 100% effective, I still recommend that you use tick preventative medication for your dog.
Tick checking your dog after they have been in the woods or tall grass is also very important. A tick needs to be attached to a dog for at least 24 hours before it can transmit Lyme, so if you can find and remove a tick soon after attachment it cannot infect your dog.
BBark: What about the Lyme vaccine and/or tick collars? Dr. Chris: Both can be effective as a second line of defense against tick borne disease. The Lyme vaccine has been shown to be effective at preventing transmission of Lyme, although no vaccine is 100% effective. Tick collars can be another level of protection for dogs that spend a lot of time in tick heavy areas.
BBark: What are the signs of Lyme disease? Dr. Chris: The most common signs of Lyme disease are joint pain, swelling, and fever. Dogs with Lyme often have what is known as a “shifting leg lameness”, where they seem painful in different joints at different times.Very rarely, dogs can get Lyme Nephritis a much more serious form of the disease that is not well understood. Lyme nephritis attacks the kidneys and is often
BBark: Is Lyme disease treatable? Dr. Chris: Yes, while Lyme infection can be very tricky to diagnose, the good news is that it is usually easily treatable (with the exception of Lyme nephritis) with a course of antibiotics. Clinically affected dogs often begin to improve within a few days.
Christopher Gaylord, DVM, is the practice owner of North Slope Veterinary, 207 6th Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11217. A graduate of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Gaylord practiced in Manhattan and Jersey City before opening his practice in Park Slope. He can be reached at info@NorthSlopeVet.com To make an appointment with Dr. Gaylord, call 718-789-7170, M-F:9am-7pm or Sat: 9am-3pm. House calls available on request.