BOISE, Idaho — Except for a mid-November blast of arctic air that dumped an unseasonable amount of snow on Idaho and the West, the winter of 2014-15 has been a relatively mild one here in Boise and the Rocky Mountain area.
And with temperatures rising in the past week there is now full-on outburst of those gross, disgusting and unloved little bugs — the tick.
Dyan Roessler is a dog trainer at a Petco in Boise. She said that the ticks are showing up early this year because of a mild winter that did not get a hard freeze that normally kills tick eggs. “Right now there is a have a very serious infestation,” she said. “A hard, sustained freeze will keep a lot of the eggs from hatching, and we didn’t get that this winter. Now that is unseasonably warm, the ticks are starting to become an issue and hatching in great numbers.”
A hard freeze between now and the end of the middle of April could kill off a lot, but Roessler believes that probably won’t happen.
“In my estimation, we are going to have a pretty bad tick year here, and across the West,” she said. “Usually we don’t hear about ticks until mid-April and sometimes even as late as May. It just depends on the weather.”
Dr. Mike Koob is the chief of staff of the Idaho Humane Society’s Veterinarian Medical Center in Boise. He said that ticks are very common in Idaho and if you take your dog for a walk in the woods, foothills or desert you’re going to get them and if you find one on your pet, just pull them off. “There is no magic potion and you don’t have to set your dog on fire either,” he said.
“It is really an old wives’ tale about leaving the head of a tick in the animal. Ticks don’t have a head. Where and why that has been talked about is because a tick bite is usually a pretty good bug bite. It’s like a bad mosquito bite and sometimes there will be a scab after you pull the tick off but that is just a reaction to the bit. It is not the head stuck in there,” he said.
Dr. Koob explained that a tick bites its host then spits into the bite with an anti-coagulant to keep the blood flowing.
Some animals react worse to that chemical, the spit, than others, he said. Just like some people react badly to mosquito bites and some people don’t. “It varies as to how long the ticks has been on the animal and how much spit they have in them. A little scab is common, not unexpected and not a cause for alarm.
AN IDAHO EARLY SPRING
Once the weather starts getting into the 50s and 60s the ticks get their marching orders and they come in droves. According to Koob, the spring is the worst. “Once we get the days with 90 and 100 degree temps I don’t see a lot of dogs with ticks on them. I see them in April and May. And again in the fall, but in the summer, I don’t see them.”
WHAT HARM CAN A LITTLE TICK DO?
Roessler added that there are a number of diseases that ticks can bring. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is one, and it’s deadly. Lyme disease is contagious to humans as well. Another one is called tick paralysis and it can cause the dog to be paralyzed for a period of time or even die because it effect their neurological system.
Koob said there are six tick-borne diseases that are present in ticks in North America and all of them are very rare in Idaho.
“That doesn’t mean people should not take precautions and protect their pets,” he said. “They should take preventative action. It’s just that in 30 years of practicing veterinary medicine in Idaho, I have never personally documented a case of a tick-borne disease.”
Tick paralysis is another story. Paralysis can be spread from any tick species but, it is not a disease. “Dog’s reacts to the spit as if it was a nerve toxin,” Koob said. “If a dog is tick-sensitive and gets enough ticks on him they can get tick paralysis. The best thing to do is to take the ticks off and the paralysis will go away.
Sometimes recovery takes longer is some dogs that others. Koob was treating a blue healer a few years ago that had more than 40 ticks on him. The dog was shaking, trembling and couldn’t use his legs very well. “We went over him very carefully and removed all the ticks and within an hour he was fine,” he said. “The symptoms were from the nerve toxin in the tick spit. Once the ticks were removed, the dog was up and running.”
HOW TO CHECK FOR TICKS
Some ticks are the size of a sesame seed and when they are that small it can be tough finding them. Koob suggested using a fine-toothed comb or just feel your pet a little bump. Some ticks can grow to be as big as a grape when they are swollen and full of blood.
IT’S A TICK’S LIFE
What a tick does is they bite a dog, the female tick sucks up some blood and falls on the ground and digest the blood and produces thousands of eggs. Those eggs live in the grass and hatch and the baby ticks suck on plant juices mostly and when they get mature enough and they need a blood meal, they climb on a blade of grass, a stick, a bush or a branch and they wait.
“They got their arms out and waving them while they wait for a fury, fuzzy animal to walk by. It could be a mouse, bird, fox, dog or a person, and they grab on, burrow into the fur and skin, grab a blood meal, fall off and then their done.
Both Roessler and Koob say that taking preventive measures will protect your pet from ticks. One type of product is an ointment called a lipophilic and they like fat and there are several products on the market. “Every animal has a tiny microscopic layer of oil on their skin and this lipophilic is administered between the shoulder blades of your pet to keep it from licking it. Once delivered, the ointment gets absorbed into the oil layers of the skin and gradually will spread throughout the entire body of the animal.
The ointment gets into the skin and that is why it will last for a month even if you bath the dog. They are long lasting for four sometimes six weeks and they spread throughout the entire body so it is not like a tick collar that just works for a couple of inches around the neck.
Once the ointment is applied it will probably migrate over the body within a days or so Koob said. “Ticks will still also get on the animal and they may burrow down on the animal and even bit your pet, but once they bit the animal the product will kill them.”
According to Koob, once in a while, especially in Idaho because we have so many ticks, you’ll get an overload and you get a tick and you’ll think the product doesn’t work because the tick has already latched on, they are going to die and 99 percent don’t get that far.
Koob said that a tick probably does not cause any real discomfort for the animal. “From the tick’s point of view the goal of the tick is to bite the animal without letting the animal feel it, he said.
“Anytime you have parasite-prey relationship you have to think of it from the parasite’s point of view. It is not advantageous for the parasite to harm the host that much or let them know that they are there or the host will chew them off. So ticks are really good at getting down into the fir and biting the animal without letting the animal know that it is there.
Taking simple precautions is the best way to avoid tick issues. Reducing the places in your yard that may harbor ticks is the first step. Wearing tick protection clothing will keep them off people and treating your pet on a monthly basis, especially in the spring and fall will go a long way in keep you and your pet tick-free.