With summer heat come more opportunities for pets and people to get affected by a tick bite, potentially infected and sick.
According to Fairfax County, Lyme disease is the best known and most common disease spread by ticks in Virginia, but there are others such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis, a bacterial illness that causes flu-like symptoms. Factors like weather, habitat and the availability of host animals affect the tick population from year-to-year.
“What we do know is that ticks are found throughout our area, so it’s important to take steps to prevent tick bites when you are working or playing outdoors,” said Josh Smith, an environmental health supervisor with the county’s health department.
Veterinary officials at Belvoir Veterinary Clinic agree and said prevention is key for animals and people getting bitten by, and potentially sick from, a tick.
Dr. Nancy Vincent-Johnson and Capt. Donny Toland offered tips for pet owners who are concerned about ticks on their pets and on them. Check your pets often for ticks, “We have to check our pets for ticks everywhere, but especially in sheltered areas on them, like between the toes and in the armpits,” Toland said.
To remove a tick, try to use tweezers and try to get as much of the bug off of and out of the animal. Pull it straight out, and don’t twist it. Don’t squeeze the tick when you’re removing it, or the virus from the tick could get back onto and into the animal. There are products available that lift and isolate a tick, making it easier to remove from the skin.
Toland suggested pet owners check their pets after every time outside. Ticks removed within a day or two of latching onto a pet-host usually don’t have time to infect it. He also said yards can be sprayed for tick prevention, but suggested keeping grass cut as another prevention measure.
“The ticks crawl to the top of grass, waiting to latch onto anything that’s nearby that can serve as a host for them,” Toland said. “It’s called ‘questing.’ So, having shorter grass helps them stay off pets and people.”
The most frequent tick, the lone-star tick, doesn’t cause Lyme disease, but other diseases, including arthritis, kidney problems and blood issues, which usually manifest in pets through fatigue, Vincent-Johnson said.
The veterinary industry has tests that can look for diseases and a heartworm test also tests for Lyme. There is a Lyme vaccine for dogs, given once, with a booster three weeks afterward, followed by annual shots. So, the process for immunity takes a while. Lyme can be treated, if diagnosed and caught early,” Vincent-Johnson said.
“The tests are looking for antibodies, not disease. Once the animals have Lyme disease, it shows up on tests,” Toland said.As for people, the doctors said preventing bug and tick bites is also key.
They suggest wearing light colors, so bugs are easier to see for removal. Also, people should wear long-sleeved shirts and pants tucked into socks or with rubber bands closing them up at the ankles. The county’s website, fairfaxcounty.gov, has a field guide to battle ticks, which includes Tick Check 1-2, a Lyme disease prevention video.
For more information, call the Fort Belvoir Veterinary Center, 703-805-4336.