Tick Time: Prevention preparation and products

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By Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

So I rarely listen to weather anymore, and the calendar isn’t much help either. Walking my dogs the other day we got back home to find their legs and bellies completely covered in mud.

Covered! It may only be the start of March, but in this new world, Spring comes whenever it wants. Sure it will probably leave again for a little while, but soon it will be here to stay.

Springtime can mean many things, but I’ll talk about a few. The warmer weather and change in daylight means that a lot of animals are on the move. Porcupines and skunks are the main species we want to keep an eye out for, but they aren’t the only ones. Mice tracks are emerging as the snow melts, deer paths are giving off a very enticing scent and all of the woodland creatures are out and about.

Those porcupines may not look great to you, but your dog will likely think otherwise. They especially love porcupines and skunks at very inconvenient times, like 10 p.m. All of these animals spending more time outside create a new exciting environment for your dog which leads directly into trouble.

This is also the time of year that we begin thinking about flea, tick and heartworm prevention. While I strongly recommend tick prevention year round since ticks are active in just about every month now, not everyone always listens to me (shocking, I know!) If your pet is not on prevention year round, they should be starting soon. Heartworm prevention must be started as soon as the weather is warm enough for mosquitos, while grass and any temperature above 36 degrees get the ticks moving.

Heartworm medication also acts as a dewormer, and many dogs are getting luckier at finding mice and other rodents as the snow melts. My dog who is very good at catching mice gets her heartworm prevention to help clear the worms out of her even when heartworm isn’t in season. If you can see grass, the ticks are out and can be biting. Since ticks don’t die in the cold weather, as soon as they can crawl from grass to pets they will be around. My husband spends a lot of time in the Spring in the woods for maple sugaring and I start checking for ticks in earnest right about now.

March is the month we typically start seeing a spring surge in tick activity, so make sure your pets are up to date on their tick prevention. While most people are now aware of Lyme disease, the breaks in protection we see are usually from starting prevention too late or ending too early.

While we hope that we can treat/prevent things without using chemicals, these bugs are an exception. Fleas, ticks and heartworm larvae aren’t killed by all natural products. This is why they have survived through thick and thin by using their hosts to spread. There are some natural repellents, oils, and candles that help decrease the number of mosquitoes that feed on your pet or make them less enticing. However, we must actually kill the flea, tick or heartworm larvae in order to prevent disease.

The good news is that there are many different types of products out that have been proven safe for many years. There are topicals, collars and chew tabs that give more flexibility to owners. At this point, we do still need to use two different products to prevent ticks and heartworm, but I keep cheering on the scientists who will be able to wrap everything into one easy dose someday.

If your pet has been using a product that works well, I typically tell people to stick with it. The collars tend to be the most cost efficient, though it can be hard to remember when they are out of date and for dogs who swim their efficacy is decreased. Topicals are a good stand-by, though these are also less effective for big swimmers. There are chewable tabs for either once every 12 weeks or once monthly. These are great for dogs who swim a lot or households with children who struggle with not petting the dog for the time that the medicine absorbs. Chews must be fully absorbed, so you do have to make sure your dog eats it and doesn’t throw it up for a few hours. Your veterinarian can help you decide which product will work best for your pet.

Spring is also the time when most people start thinking about vaccines. Often our pets schedules are spread out so that not all vaccines are due in the Spring, but next week I will go over common vaccines that we should be thinking about. So next time you see a trail of muddy paw prints across your floor or carpet, think about tick prevention too.

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher is a veterinarian at All Points Animal Care in Rutland. Have a question on this or any animal health topic? E-MAIL: petdocanna@gmail.com

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