Protecting our pets from ticks and tickborne diseases


PITTSFIELD -- They're lurking in tall grasses, wooded trails, even your own backyard, and they're waiting, just waiting for something or someone to walk past them.

Ticks are growing in astronomical numbers and with that, the number of bites and the fear of Lyme disease has skyrocketed in the Berkshires and throughout the country.

Andrew Breslin, a VMD at South Street Veterinary Services in Pittsfield, has been practicing in the area for more than four decades and remembers when ticks weren't a significant problem.

"It's only been in the last decade or so that the number of tick bites has grown so astronomically," he said. "It seems to be a trend of where ticks are moving to."

So what is one to do if their dog or cat is bitten?

Breslin said it's not necessary to bring the animal to a veterinarian's office to remove the tick, as most can be extracted at home.

"Be aware of an unexplained limp, however," he said. "That's one of the biggest signs the animal may have Lyme."

The best method to avoid ticks and Lyme, Breslin said, is a preventative one, but cautions people about trusting in any treatment entirely.

"It's like buying a bulletproof vest and standing in front of a line of Uzis, not expecting to get hit," Breslin said.

He recommends using a topical treatment such as Advantix, which contains a pyrethroid, a strong insect repellent, but should only be used on dogs as the chemical is very toxic to cats.

Felines, on the other hand, don't have worry about the blood-sucking monsters as much -- Lyme disease isn't found in cats.

If a tick is found attached to one of your pets, Breslin says it's important to remove it carefully. He suggests using a plastic tick remover.

"What you don't want to do is use a tissue or anything that squeezes the tick," he said. "You need to remove the head and get between its head and the animal's flesh, levering the head up and out."

Similarly, John Reynolds, of Pittsfield Veterinary Hospital, says he's seen a dramatic increase in Lyme cases in dogs, but added that only 10 percent of the dogs he's seen that get bitten by a tick actually contract Lyme.

"There's a lot about Lyme disease that we just don't know," he said.

Reynolds agreed that topical treatments are good protector against tick bites and the spread of Lyme, but he strongly recommends having dogs vaccinated.

"Ticks are very difficult to kill," he said. "Whether it's a topical treatment, collar, whatever, it's not a guarantee the dog won't get bit."

Both veterinarians suggested checking your pets regularly, especially around the head and neck, the most likely places for a tick to attach.

Protecting your pets from ticks

• Check pets daily, especially after they've been outside.

 If you find a tick on your dog, remove it immediately.

 When you visit the vet, ask him or her to do a tick check.

 Talk with your vet about tick preventatives.

 Some local vets, like Andrew Breslin in Pittsfield, recommend topical treatments with a pyrethroid, like Advantix -- but only for dogs. Pyrethroid is extremely toxic to cats.

 Just like humans, if a tick has attached to your pet, make sure you remove the head along with the body. A plastic tick remover should get the job done.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

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