I can’t tell you the number of calls my clinic is receiving about ticks and how they seem even heavier and more aggressive this year. The more concerning part of this pet-related concern is that ticks don’t just pose a threat to your dog’s health, but to your own and that of your human family as well. So, for the first time since I’ve been in practice, I’m issuing a full public service announcement regarding this critical issue.

You’re not imagining it, and it’s not just you. Ticks are back this season even more aggressively than in the past few seasons. We had hoped a hard winter would reduce the population and give our pets a break, but it seems the critters found great winter hiding spots and — at least in central Indiana and surrounding areas — spring has made them happy!

Because ticks carry the Lyme causing bacteria, along with other diseases, we really don’t want our pets — or our families — exposed to these blood suckers. Chances are, of course, you or someone you love (be they four-legged or two) WiLL be exposed and will need a game plan.

Step One: Get rid of the tick. There are tick grabbers you can use or you can carefully use your fingers like one of the tick grabbers and twist the tick out. I just watched a great video about how to spin the tick around until it releases (check this out). People often worry if they pull straight out, the head will get left behind, but this isn’t really a grave concern.

Worst case scenario with a tick head left behind? A bump and a scab form and the head comes out when the scab falls off. So, twist the tick out.

Once the tick is gone, you’ll still see a spot where the head was buried. Even if you got the head out; there is still local trauma, possibly a little allergic reaction to the tick saliva, and a risk of infection and Lyme transmission (also Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasma, Babesia, and others) from the saliva. Leaving the head in does not increase the risk of disease transmission, it has already occurred. To be safe, however, bring your pet in to see the veterinarian.

Step two: Apply a healing salve that takes down the swelling, treats localized infection and soothes the skin. Vintage Doggie Spa Herbal Healing Salve works great for this. You may also ask your veterinarian if they have a therapeutic laser treatment available. This enjoyable treatment speeds healing by bringing increased blood flow to the area; helping fight infection.

Because one tick may mean more ticks — and our pets can carry ticks home to us humans — a close inspection is needed to make sure there are no other ticks on our pet. Once the initial tick bite is dealt with, a full body combing and inspection, including tissue massage to feel every inch of the skin, makes sure there aren’t any other ticks. Sometimes, this works best partnered with a cleansing bath using natural lavender essential oil infused shampoo to soothe the skin. Lavender also has antibacterial properties and can be repellant to ticks.

Once ticks are removed, prevention and protection is needed so more ticks don’t bite. Your approach to health helps decide how much ticks impact your life and how to prevent future tick bites.

By “approach to health” I basically mean to ask, “Will you fight with chemicals or will you fight with more natural methods?” There are more, newer tick killing products being developed all the time. Some are some pretty heavy duty chemicals – which means they work, but they also risk having more side effects. More natural methods include daily inspections, repellant products made with essential oils, diatomaceous earth, and many other natural ingredients. The natural route takes a bit more time and must be reapplied frequently, but can have good results. The important thing to keep in mind is not only keeping the ticks off, but preventing Lyme disease and its transmission.

There IS a vaccine to protect against Lyme. It must be boostered every year, and it is only about 70% effective. This means 30% of infective tick bites may transmit Lyme to your dog. Unfortunately, the vaccine also is associated with many vaccine reactions. These reactions can range from swelling at the administration location, to whole body muscle pain that may last an entire year.

Next to discuss are the repellent products, the pesticides. There are topical products, in many combinations. Some topical products are marketed as all-in-one products that protect against fleas, ticks, heart worms, and intestinal worms. For some of these products, you have to read the fine print on the label. For example, one of the all-in-one products only protects against one species of tick. Depending on where you live, there may be four tick species. We do not know if this means the medication does not work for the other ticks, or if it’s simply was not tested to satisfy the FDA. More recently, are the brand-new chewable pesticides that can work from 1 to 3 months depending on the product. It must be a pretty heavy duty pesticide to work for three months from the inside of your dog out. And do not forget that there are also collars that can protect against ticks, fleas and ticks, or just fleas.

Bottom line: Educate yourself. Even the products sold by veterinarians can have some major side effects. Don’t get me wrong, I cannot stand ticks. I simply want everyone to know the advantages and disadvantages of using any medication or treatment.

Now a discussion on alternative therapies. There are some holistic practitioners to say that if your dog is on a species appropriate raw diet that he will not get infected with Lyme disease. I do not know how you can prove that. However, I do think that it helps to build the immune system and I know for a fact that my patients who eat real food and undergo my aggressive herbal treatment of Lyme disease do stop testing positive for Lyme. The Lyme treatment can take six months or longer, but it’s better than saying there are no clinical signs at this time so we will not treat your dog. Your dog is too important to wait until there is clinical disease. Now is the time to prevent illness.

Still have questions specific to your dog, your area, your risk of ticks? Tick control is a big topic – one that would be a great discussion one on one discussion to have with your veterinarian.

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