Ollie is our big, 10-year-old orange tabby. His four favorite things are roaming the woods next to our home, eating, sleeping in the sun and being petted.
Yesterday, I (Perry Jameson) was doing his forth favorite thing, which induced a deep purr that relaxes both him and me. As I scratched under his chin, I felt a little lump. Once the hair was parted, I could see what it was: a big, engorged tick.
As the weather gets warm, I consistently find these on my cats, especially the two males Ollie and Mojo.
As veterinarians, tick removal is something we have to do frequently and most pet owners should know how to do this as well. It is important to remove all of the tick and not leave any behind which can continue to transmit infection or induce inflammation at the site.
We do not recommend using your fingers for this as it inevitably results in a part of the tick being left behind. Use forceps, tweezers or one of the new tick removal devices (available at camping supply stores and pet supply stores) instead. These tools allow you to grasp the tick close to the skin and next to the mouth parts.
Apply steady rearward traction to pull the tick off. Then drop it in the toilet and flush.
Since ticks carry diseases infectious to people, wash your hands afterward or, even better, wear gloves during the removal process. They can also transmit infections to our pets.
The biggest tick-transmitted disease for cats in our area is cytauxzoonosis. Cats with cytauxzoonosis may have with high fever, trouble breathing, depression, dehydration, anorexia, anemia and jaundice that often rapidly progresses to hypothermia, recumbency, coma and death.
Even with aggressive therapy, greater than 50 percent of cats with the disease will die. Bobcats are believed to be the primary host for the organism.
Dogs can get diseases from ticks as well. In our area, Ehrlichia and Anaplamsa are the most common. These diseases often cause fever, lethargy, anorexia, decreased white blood cells and platelets, and sometimes joint pain.
Fortunately, most dogs will respond well to therapy. Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Babesia and Lyme disease are not as common but still can occur here.
It is not only a good idea to prevent tick exposure because they are gross but also because they can make both our pet and human family members sick.
The best way to prevent exposure is to keep your pets indoors. The next step is a daily tick inspection. Go over your entire pet, even looking down into their ears. The earlier the tick is found, the less imbedded it will be, making it easier to remove and less likely to transmit infection.
Preventing tick exposure in outdoor pets is a two-step process. First, they can be kept away by using a collar embedded with compounds that repel ticks. These do a pretty good job around the head and neck but may not keep them away from other areas. Topical flea/tick prevention is an option but the tick has to bite your pet before it is killed.
The second is to make your yard a place where ticks do not want to be. This involves keeping your grass cut short, keeping bushes and shrubs trimmed and removing yard debris, like leaf piles, where ticks like to hide.
Deer will bring ticks into your yard. If deer like to visit, then tall fencing may be required to keep them away.
The best way to prevent tick-transmitted diseases infecting our pets is to first prevent exposure to ticks. Check your pets daily and take steps to keep them away. Your veterinarian is the best resource to help you come up with the right plan of attack for your family.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.