Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases

Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases

Tips for Keeping You and Your Dog Healthy

One of the highlights of moving from Wisconsin to Maine in 1995 was that Maine had a much lower incidence of tick-borne diseases. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Preliminary data for Maine for 2023 indicate 2,943 cases of Lyme Disease, 777 of Anaplasmosis, and 194 of Babesiosis. The counties with the highest incidence are Hancock, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, and Knox. In 2021, the Federal CDC indicated that the actual burden of Lyme disease may be more than ten times the number of reported cases.

Our Personal Experiences with Tick-Borne Diseases
In 2014, Paula was diagnosed with a tick-borne disease, followed by me in 2015. Neither of us had the traditional bullseye rash. While we had some aches and pains, we attributed it to aging. It was only when we combined that with symptoms such as mental fog and fatigue that we sought diagnosis and treatment. We recovered.

A friend suddenly became very ill and was diagnosed with Lyme disease in this same period. Unable to work for several weeks and relegated to using a walker, she also recovered after treatment.

In January 2017, our dog Muppy tested positive for Lyme during her annual wellness exam. She showed no apparent symptoms. Typical dog symptoms include periodic lameness or fever, variable appetite, or behavioral changes. Her veterinarians recommended a more advanced test, the Lyme Multiplex assay from Cornell University. This test indicated high numbers for possible past exposure. We monitored her for symptoms, practiced tick control (see below), and re-tested her every six months. Continuing testing for the disease and other bloodwork was necessary as tick-borne diseases can cause chronic kidney disease.

Late in the summer of 2018, Muppy began exhibiting atypical anxious behavior. I took Muppy to her vet, who ordered an Idexx Tick/vector Canine Comprehensive RealPCR™ Panel with Lyme Quant C6® panel. It tests for Anaplasmosis spp., Babesia spp., Bartonella spp., Ehrlichia spp., Hepatozoon spp., Leishmania spp., Neorickettsia risticii and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Based on the results, Muppy began treatment for Lyme Disease, and her symptoms were gone within a month. In February, at her annual wellness exam, she was clear of Lyme and received her first Lyme Disease vaccine to prevent future infections.

In the late spring of 2021, Muppy again expressed behavioral symptoms like those when she was diagnosed with Lyme. Her vet ordered the same test noted above, and this time, she tested positive for Anaplasma. She was treated and again was clear of all symptoms.

Two summer residents called me a few years ago because their dogs had suddenly exhibited aggressive behavior. I require prospective clients to see their veterinarian first to ensure their dog has no underlying medical issues that could cause a behavior change. Because these two clients lived in an area with a high incidence of tick-borne disease, I encouraged them to ask their vet to run the same test we ran on Muppy. Both dogs tested positive. Their veterinarian treated the dogs for a tick-borne disease, and their aggressive behavior stopped.

While most cases of tick-borne disease are successfully treated when diagnosed early, some can result in highly debilitating chronic disease and even death. The following tables summarize what we must know about ticks and tick-borne diseases.

Tick Prevention for Your Home
•    Deer and mice play a significant role in spreading tick-borne diseases. To minimize the rodent population around your home, you may wish to work with a licensed pest control expert.

•    Wood piles provide a habitat for mice; keep them as far away from your home as possible.

•    Bird feeders also attract rodents and should also be kept far away.

•    Keep your lawn short on both sides of the fence. Ticks like to crawl up on grass and latch on as we or our dogs brush against them. After Muppy's first infection, we started having our yards treated with a tick repellent by a licensed pest control service once a month, from April through November. The products they use vary, so ask questions to know what they use is compatible with your ecological ethos. In our experience, we see fewer ticks and mosquitoes and have had no tick-borne diseases.

•    If your yard is huge and you do not want to treat it all, you can use crushed stone to create a barrier around it. A barrier at least 3 feet wide is recommended. Keep the barrier free of grass clippings and leaf litter, which will help keep ticks from crossing into the yard.

•    Keep fallen leaves raked up and remove them regularly. Mice and ticks hide in leaf litter. Muppy likes to roll in leaves, which is how I believe she first contracted Lyme disease.

Tick Prevention for You and Your Dog
•    Avoid areas infested with ticks.

•    If you must venture into tick habitat, do so at the hottest and driest time of day.

•    Avoid areas with tall grass, brush, and leaf litter, and walk in the center of trails. Keep your dog on a leash and close.

•    Wear light-colored clothing, tuck your shirt into your pants, and tuck pants into your boots.

•    Carefully review safety guidelines for tick repellents.

•    Tick repellents for people are not necessarily safe for pets, and vice versa.
•    I spent a lot of time in the woods taking photos, using the highest concentration of DEET available until the day I discovered DEET melting part of my camera.

•    The FDA has issued a fact sheet on potential adverse events associated with flea and tick repellents used with dogs based on Isoxazoline. I recommend you read it: https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/fact-sheet-pet-owners-and-veterinarians-about-potential-adverse-events-associated-isoxazoline-flea. I do NOT use these products on my pets.

•    If your dog spends time in tick-infested environments, vaccinate them for Lyme disease. However, understand that this does not offer protection against other tick-borne diseases.

•    When you get home, do a thorough exam to check for ticks on yourself and your dog. Ticks will most likely attach in the following areas: in and around ears, on your head, around the hairline, armpits, bellybutton, waistline, groin, legs, behind knees, and between toes.

If You Have Been In An Area with Ticks or Find One On You
If a tick has bitten you and you exhibit any symptoms of a tick-borne disease, as noted above, I recommend seeing your family physician. While tick-borne diseases are typically not fatal, they can cause chronic, life-changing diseases the longer you are infected.

If you find a tick on you or your dog, before or after they have latched on to you:

•    Remove it appropriately. The UMaine Extension has some excellent tips at – https://extension.umaine.edu/ticks/removal/

•    Consider sending the tick to the UMaine Tick Lab for identification, at no charge, or testing for disease for $20. FMI – https://extension.umaine.edu/ticks/submit/

•    Observe you and your dog for symptoms of tick-borne diseases such as Anemia, Arthritis-transient and migratory, Bell's Palsy, Bloody Urine, Brain and Spinal Inflammation, Chest Discomfort, Confusion, Coughing, Conjunctivitis, Cranial Nerve Neuritis, Dark Urine, Depression, Difficulty Breathing, Enlarged Liver, Enlarged Spleen, Fatigue, Fever and Chills, GI symptoms (abdominal pain, anorexia, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting), Headache, Heart Inflammation, Heart Rhythm Disorder, Joint Pain, Kidney Failure, Malaise, Migratory Pain (bone, bursae, joints, muscle, tendons), Muscle Pain, Neurologic Issues (brain fog, concentration, cranial or peripheral nerve paralysis, memory, sudden transient deafness), Petechiae, Photophobia, Red ring-like rash, Skin Rashes, Skin ulceration at the bite, Sore throat, Stiff Neck, Swollen Lymph Glands, and Weakness.

The ticks are here to stay. We need to do all that we can to keep ourselves and our pets safe from the diseases they carry.

Don Hanson lives in Bangor, Maine, where he is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) and the founder of ForceFreePets.com, an online educational resource for people with dogs and cats. He is a Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (PCBC-A) accredited by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board (PPAB)and a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP). Don is a member of thePet Professional Guild (PPG), where he serves on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairs the Advocacy Committee. He is also a founding director of Pet Advocacy International (PIAI). In addition, Don produces and co-hosts The Woof Meow Showpodcast,available at http://bit.ly/WfMwPodcasts/,the Apple Podcast app, and Don's blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.The opinions in this post are those of Don Hanson.

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