If you spend time outdoors in the Central Coast, sooner or later you’re going to run into ticks on yourself or your family pets. So let’s learn a little about them, the risks that they pose, and how best to prevent them. Nationwide, there is a huge epidemic in human cases of tick-borne diseases, which include the infamous Lyme disease but also lesser known threats like Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mtn Spotted Fever. This increase in tick diseases is thought to be due to the fact that humans and wild mammals like deer are now coexisting more closely. We also have learned that dogs are infected at the same rates that humans are, while cats are rarely affected.
A recent study done at Cal Poly identified all ticks gathered over a 3 month period from undeveloped land, and found two different species of ticks present. About 98% of these ticks were Dermocentor species, while 2% were Ixodes. Why is this important to you? Because Dermocentor doesn’t carry diseases that are transmissible to people or pets (other than a bacterial infection due to the skin puncture), while Ixodes ticks can carry Lyme Disease and other serious medical risks for us and our pets. Put differently, 98% of the time the worst we will run into is a bacterial infection of a puncture wound, while 2% of tick bites could threaten our health and lives.
How do we tell the difference? For one thing, Dermocentor ticks are typically much larger than Ixodes. Dermocentor ticks also typically have brown legs, whereas Ixodes species typically have black legs. Both species are widely found on birds and wild mammals of all types, from rodents up to deer.
While there are no pure tick preventives currently licensed for use in cats, we are happy to carry two different products for dogs that have shown consistently good results in both preventing infestation and killing ticks. Nexgard is a once monthly flea and tick preventative while Bravecto is a three month flea and tick preventative. Both of these products are oral products that most dogs gobble up like a treat and are also safe for dogs with food allergies! And, they are completely safe. Although they do not prevent ticks from biting, they kill ticks very quickly after they bite, before the ticks can spread disease. Unfortunately, even though over the counter products such as Frontline Plus and Advantix say they are effective against ticks, both fleas AND ticks in this area are resistant to these products.
What about ticks and cats? Luckily, with cats being extensive groomers, we VERY rarely see ticks on cats. And, since cats are more sensitive to many preventatives (and can even be toxic to them), we do not recommend routine tick prevention in cats. That being said, cats (and dogs) can occasionally get non-biting ear ticks. Symptoms of that would be discharge from the ears or shaking/scratching at the ears.