JP Pets: Keeping dogs tick-free and healthy

A happy and tick-free dog.
Gazette Photo by Peter Shanley

With warm weather arriving, owners should monitor their dogs for fleas and ticks to keep them happy and healthy.

“Fleas and ticks are more than just a nuisance to pet owners and their pets; they pose a major health threat to the animals if they are not treated right away,” said Yessy Feliz, owner of Tails, a pet supply store and boarding facility in Hyde Square. “With the warm months around the corner, pets are predisposed to fleas and ticks as they thrive in humid and warmer weather.”

Dogs and their owners are both susceptible to tick-borne diseases. Rob Halpin, spokesperson at MSPCA-Angell, told the Gazette that the Lone Star tick has been taking a foothold in Massachusetts and introducing diseases to the area, such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which can be contracted by dogs and humans.

“Because winters are shorter and are not as cold, ticks are surviving the winters, and as a result there are many more of them than usual,” said Halpin. “We are now treating for tick-borne diseases year-round.”

Halpin said that veterinarians at Angell call on everyone to be aware of ticks and their potential risks, particularly residents in Jamaica Plain.

“If we’re surrounded by green space, we’re surrounded by ticks,” Halpin said.

The Lyme disease vaccine for dogs is seen as very effective by MSPCA veterinarians.

“Lyme disease can be a miserable experience for dogs, as well as for humans. It requires very aggressive treatment with antibiotics to overcome,” Halpin said.

The vaccine is offered at MSPCA-Angell. Animals adopted from the MSPCA are immunized and spayed or neutered before leaving the facility, but the Lyme vaccination is not considered a “core vaccine,” meaning animals adopted from the MSPCA do not necessarily have it. Adopters or pet owners who are concerned that their and their pet’s lifestyle may predispose them to Lyme should consult with their veterinarian to determine if the vaccine is appropriate for them, according to Halpin.

Another issue from ticks and fleas is the dermatological effect that they have on pets, which can cause skin problems such as itching, dermatitis, scabs, and patches of missing hair, according to Feliz. Ticks and fleas may also cause infections, blood loss and anemia, weight loss, or fevers.

For prevention, Feliz says that it is extremely important for pets to take heartworm and tick and flee medication year-round, and recommends Frontline, Advantage, and Seresto flea and tick collars to keep pets healthy and safe.

“If you prefer a more natural approach, products with cedar and lavender oils serve as a natural repellents to flea and ticks and the lavender oil works as an antiseptic to anti-inflammatory and relieve itching,” Feliz said. “Natural Chemistry offers a variety of products for the treatment of fleas and ticks for your pet and for the home as well.”

Dog owners, especially those with dark-colored dogs, are encouraged to carefully review the dog’s fur often to check for ticks. It is easier to spot a tick on a dog with light-colored fur.

If a dog owner does spot a tick on their dog, the most important thing to do is physically remove the tick.

“Never handle ticks and fleas bare handed, don’t squeeze the tick, pull on it, press down on it, burn it, or otherwise try to kill it while it’s still embedded in your pet,” Feliz said. “You don’t want to inadvertently harm your pet, and you don’t want to cause the tick to secrete more saliva into your pet or leave pieces of the rostrum (the ‘sticker’) embedded in your pet’s skin. The best way to remove it is with a twisting motion, removing it safely and carefully.”

Dogs don’t need to be brought into the clinic immediately after finding a tick, but if the owner is concerned or curious about the tick, they can put the tick in a bag and bring it to the veterinarian who can analyze its content to decide if the dog needs to be checked for any diseases.

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