Tick populations appear to be on the rise, both here in Colorado and across the nation. Epidemiology experts have noticed a dramatic rise in tick populations in the past 10 years. Consequently, the diseases carried and spread by ticks are also on the rise in humans, wildlife and domestic pets alike. According to the Center for Disease Control, some 300,000 Americans contract Lyme disease each year. Pet numbers are more difficult to quantify but seem to follow the same trends as people. Several reasons given for the rise in tick populations include warmer winters, suburbanization and the migratory patterns of host animals such as birds, rodents and deer.
Lyme disease is probably the most well-known tick borne pathogen, but ticks cause a host of other diseases as well. Some of the more common and serious conditions identified are anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, the often fatal cat disease cytauxzooon and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which can be fatal in both dogs and humans. Most of these diseases produce fatigue, fever, skin rashes and, if untreated, can lead to joint pain, neurological conditions, blood clotting disorders and kidney disease.
Of all the identified species of ticks, there are several that are truly the bad guys of the tick world, spreading bacterial and viral diseases to humans and animals alike. The blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) transmit Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis, and are found primarily in the upper mid-west, northeastern U.S., and the pacific coast. The Rocky Mountain wood tick (Demacentor andersoni) is found throughout the Rocky Mountain states and is responsible for spreading Colorado tick fever.
According to the CSU extension office, Colorado tick fever is the most common pathogen found in our region with some 200 cases reported annually. This viral infection produces flu-like symptoms that typically last from one to three days and likely often goes unreported making the actual number of cases difficult to determine. The lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) lives primarily in the south central and eastern U.S. and is responsible for spreading the bacterial disease Ehrlichiosis. This is a commonly diagnosed disease in dogs that can produce joint pain and bleeding disorders. Contrary to its name, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is rare in Colorado but can be carried by the Rocky Mountain wood tick. It has a much higher prevalence along the Atlantic coastal home of the American dog tick (Dermaccentor Variabilis) and the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sangunineus). The few cases that have been reported in Colorado have occurred in the northwestern part of the state. Tularemia is seen in dogs and is often spread by eating the carcass of a rabbit. It is spread to rabbits and other wildlife by the Rocky Mountain wood tick and American dog tick. Tick paralysis is caused when the Rocky Mountain wood tick remains feeding on an animal for an extended period of time. Signs include progressive weakness beginning in the hindlimbs and moving up the spinal cord to eventually produce complete paralysis. The symptoms completely reverse once the tick is removed.
Obviously, with all of the potential dangers posed by ticks, regular tick prevention needs to be considered an important part of your pets overall health plan. There are a multitude of products available including collars and top spot applications with some that will include the added protection against fleas and even heartworm disease. Read labels carefully. Some products are not safe for cats even if applied to a dog and a cat contacts the dogs coat. Permethrin collars can cause severe, sometimes even fatal, reactions if the ends are chewed and swallowed. Many products listed as tick preventives will only cover one or two species, which will lead to a false sense of security when traveling out of our state. So with the onset of warmer weather, now is the time to talk to your veterinarian to develop the best plan for your pets.
Feel free to email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Veterinarians Dr. Charlie Meynier, Dr. Tom Suplizio and Dr. Tricia Beasley practice at the Vail Valley Animal Hospital and ER. Call 970-926-3496 or visit www.vail valleyanimalhospital.com.