This may seem like an unusual time of year for a blog entry about ticks and tick-borne disease in dogs and cats but the topic is an extremely important one that even in the past month or two, we have been getting many questions about. We have had several clients call us during November and December stating that they are finding ticks on their dogs. During this time of year, it is commonly thought that with the cold weather, the ticks are no longer active and we can, therefore, give our dogs and indoor/outdoor cats a break from their monthly flea and tick preventative. Unfortunately, this is not the case. With changing climate patterns and insect prevalence, the tick problem in this area does not just stop during the winter months. If we have milder weather, even in the winter, the ticks will be active. If temperatures are in the 40s and the sun is out, the microclimate of bushes and shrubs is likely warm enough that any ticks present will be actively searching out a host. While we do have cold snaps, the temperature reaches up into the 40s quite frequently in the winter in this area which puts our pets, and ourselves, at risk of tick exposure. Due to these facts, we recommend keeping your pets on their flea and tick prevention year round.

There are several tick-borne diseases that we see commonly in this area. The vast majority of dogs in our practice are screened annually for them and they include Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, and Ehrlichiosis. Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis are particularly prevalent in this corner of the country. We have had a couple of patients hospitalized due to very serious Anaplasmosis infections in the past 6 months. We were, fortunately, able to successfully treat both animals but they were ill for quite a while and both required an extended period of convalescence. These diseases should not be taken lightly.

While there are several factors that determine whether or not a tick infected with these diseases (vaccination status of the dog in the case of Lyme disease, duration of attachment of the tick to the dog or cat, immune system of the dog or cat) will infect your pet, the risk is significant in our area. Keeping your indoor/outdoor cats and dogs current on their Frontline or Vectra even during the winter months is key to minimizing the risk. And while cats are apparently much more resistant to tick-borne diseases than dogs are, they can still become ill as well. In fact, one of our two severely ill Anaplasmosis patients this fall was a cat!

The bottom line is that the safest way to approach tick borne disease with your pet is prevention. None of the products out there are 100% and yes the risk of your pet getting one of these diseases is slightly less in the winter months, but we pull ticks off of dogs and cats year round nowadays. These facts are definitely something to keep in mind when deciding if you should discontinue the flea/tick preventative in the winter months.