Ticks Don’t Take a Winter Vacation

You may think that in winter you don’t have to worry about tick prevention, but if you live in any of California’s snow-free, temperate regions, adult ticks and emerging nymphs pose a threat all year long. Adult ticks are active from October to May, while younger and smaller nymphal ticks—about the size of a sesame seed—are active from January to October.

The three most common ticks in California (from top to bottom): The Western Black-Legged Tick, the Pacific Coast Tick, and the American Dog Tick.

The three most common ticks in California (from top to bottom): The Western Black-Legged Tick, the Pacific Coast Tick, and the American Dog Tick.

Ticks are nasty parasites, but they serve a purpose in the circle of life. They are food for reptiles, amphibians and birds; they host a variety of other organisms (many of those bad for humans); and because they carry diseases and drain blood, they act as a natural population control for their larger hosts—we just don’t want those “larger hosts” to be ourselves or our pets.

These mini-vampires can transmit a number of diseases including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick-borne relapsing fever, tularemia, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and erlichiosis. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in California, but luckily, most tick bites don’t transmit disease.

If you’ve been bitten by a tick, the Medical Board of California offers some advice—and an illustration of how to take out the tick—on page 10 of this issue of the Medical Board of California Newsletter.  Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics and most patients recover completely without complications if the infection is caught early. But if left untreated, the disease can cause arthritis or nervous system disorders.

Once a tick is discovered, it should be pulled out as quickly as possible.  After you remove the tick, be sure to wash your hands and apply antiseptic to the bite area. Old-fashioned tick removal remedies such as insecticides, lighted matches, gasoline, petroleum jelly or liquid soaps don’t work and may cause injury to you or your pet.

The best way to protect your pets from ticks is through the use of monthly flea and tick preventatives, which are available from your veterinarian. If you are looking for a veterinarian, don’t forget to check the license first with the Veterinary Medical Board of California.

When working with or looking for tick prevention, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends you:
  • Discuss the use of preventive products, including over-the-counter products, with your veterinarian to determine the safest and most effective choice for each pet.
  • Always talk to your veterinarian before applying any spot-on products, especially if your dog or cat is very young, old, pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.
  • Only purchase EPA-registered pesticides or FDA-approved medicines.
  • Read the entire label before you use/apply the product.
  • Always follow label directions! Apply or give the product as and when directed. Never apply more or less than the recommended dose.
  • Remember, cats are not small dogs. Products labeled for use only for dogs should only be used for dogs, and never for cats.
  • Make sure that the weight range listed on the label is correct for your pet because weight matters. Giving a smaller dog a dose designed for a larger dog could cause the animal harm.

Preventing a tick bite is important and you need to take precautions when you or your pets enter tick habitats such as tall grass and brush in urban, suburban, and rural settings. Below are a few things you can do while outdoors:

  • Wear light-colored clothing to make it easier to see ticks if they are on your clothes.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks when you are walking, hiking, or working in tick areas.
  • Use repellents containing at least 20% DEET.
  • Do tick checks for several days after you or your pets have been in tick habitat. Pay close attention to the hairline, waistline and armpits.
  • Remove attached ticks immediately. This can reduce the risk of transmission of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.
  • Seek medical attention if you, a family member, or your pet becomes ill after a tick bite.

To see additional photos or find out more information about ticks, visit the Centers for Disease Control’s information page.

 

 

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