Ticks in the City
Tick borne diseases are on the rise…in particular a pathogen that’s lethal to domestic cats.
It seems everyone comes to the big city for a party, even ticks. Historically, you’d never see ticks in Chicago, Boston, New York or San Diego. Veterinarians in all these cities have confirmed the surprising presence of the disease carrying suckers.
Dogs who have never traveled out of the concrete jungle are getting ticks, and in some cases the diseases they transmit.
In many cities, weather plays a role. While Boston had lots of snow over the past few winters, ticks usually enjoy reasonably mild winter temperatures and moist springs, according to Dr. Michael Dryden, veterinary parisitologist at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine – Manhattan. “Ticks are a big fan of global warming,” he says.
The intersection of suburbia and wildlife is exposing animals daily to raccoons, even squirrels and birds who may carry ticks, but deer are ticks’ favorite hosts. Dryden says the white-tail deer population in 1890 was 300,000; in 2004 it was 24 million.
“We can definitely track the explosion in tick populations by following the deer,” says Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine – Raleigh. “The deer have also been responsible for re-locating ticks; a raccoon might travel a few miles in a lifetime; deer travel much further.” Breitschwerdt adds some tick species once found exclusively in the south are now turning up as far north a Minnesota.
Dogs are also importing ticks. For example, Chicagoans going to Wisconsin or New Yorkers heading upstate for the weekend with their pooches may return with a souvenir tick or two. Say the tick drops off in a nearby park, or in your own backyard. Suffice to say, a single tick can lay thousands of eggs.
“This is all a changing dynamic,” says Dryden. “The bottom line is that pets who didn’t previously require protection now need it.”
One very dramatic example is the likely proliferation cytauxzoonosis, a tick-borne disease which bobcats are apparently the natural host for. Bobcats seem generally unaffected; however cytauxzoonosis is deadly to domestic cats. “We really don’t know why we’re seeing more cytauxzoonosis,” says Dryden. “And the answer doesn’t really matter if it’s your cat that has cytauxzoonosis because there is no treatment.”
Breitschwerdt, and his team of researchers, have confirmed what they’ve suspected for some time. A tick might bite, and then infect a dog with several disease pathogens all at once. The dog who has to fight off Lyme disease might do so effectively and have no symptoms. But then add a second pathogen such as the nasty sounding Anaplasma phagocytophylum, and even healthy dogs might have a far more difficult time.
There are dozens of tick species in America and 15 different tick transmitted diseases. Two more tick diseases affecting dogs are ehrlichiosis canis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
The news isn’t all bad. For one thing, veterinarians will now have a single blood test which can determine if a dog has three tick borne diseases (Anaplasma phagocytophylum, Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis canis) as well detect mosquito carrying heartworm disease.
Otherwise detecting tick borne diseases might be tricky. Breitschwerdt says it’s likely that some dogs may be infected with Lyme Disease, Anaplasma phagocytophylum or another tick disease for years, but show few discernable symptoms until something happens in their lives that stresses their immune systems. When that happens, the veterinarian might not suspect a tick-borne illness, and treats symptomatically. Since the symptomatic treatment might work, at least temporarily, there’s no clue that ticks on the dog years ago caused the problem.
“We do know there are likely more ticks, so it follows there’s more tick disease is out there,” Breitschwerdt says.
Dryden adds, “Tick prevention really does work, and increasingly dog owners understand that’s the best route.”
To protect specifically against Lyme Disease, Breitschwerdt endorses the Lyme vaccine as a first step. “It really does offer protection,” he says.
However, even deer ticks infecting dogs with Lyme might simultaneously infect dogs with additional pathogens – even vaccinated dogs should have supplementary protection. Dryden says the most dependable safeguards are specifically the Preventic Collar (this should absolutely not be used in conjunction with certain anti-anxiety medications, such an MAO inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressents or SSRI re-uptake inhibitors), K-9 Advantix and Frontline Plus (K-9 Advantix and Frontline Plus – both spot on products – also provide flea control).
For those concerned about the drug safety question, Dryden notes there’s a kind of fatal tick disease that affects dogs in northeast Australia. Fearing this horrible disease, both K-9 Advantix and Frontline Plus – which are administered monthly here – are used twice as often Down Under without numerous side affects.
“It’s always a trade off of risk to benefit,” says Dryden. “These products are safe and tick diseases are dangerous. While no product is literally 100 per cent effective, being proactive you can likely avoid tick diseases.”
At least dog owners seem to increasingly understand why protection is important. However, cat owners haven’t historically had to worry about tick diseases until now. Dryden only recommends Frontline Plus for cats.
“If veterinarians are identifying cytauxzoonosis where you live, and the cat goes outside – even if it’s only a short time in the backyard – protection could save your cat’s life,” Dryden says.
Also, consider ticks might drop off pets and wait in the grass in your yard, or even your carpet, and then might attach themselves to human family members and transmit disease. Dryden repeats, “Be proactive and talk with your veterinarian.”