Icon illustration of a tick being removed from a pet
If you find a tick: Wearing rubber gloves, use tweezers to slowly remove the entire tick, including the head and mouth parts. Seal the tick in a closed container with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. Gently clean the site of the bite with alcohol to help avoid infection, then call your veterinarian.

Protecting your pet against Lyme disease and other pesky tick-borne illnesses is easy: Apply preventative as directed a few months out of the year and forget about it, right? Well, not exactly.

There are a lot of misconceptions about ticks and the diseases they carry. For one, tick bites can happen any time of year, so it’s best to use a preventative year-round, says Dr. Barbara Hodges, director of advocacy and outreach for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. And two, the effects of tick-borne illnesses can be debilitating, even fatal—far more serious than just a “pesky” infection.

Need one more reason to take prevention seriously? Tick-borne illnesses can be challenging and time-consuming to diagnose, even in people. It took years of working with doctors to diagnose producer and animal advocate Marisol Thomas’ Lyme disease, but the frustrating journey helped prepare her and husband Rob Thomas, singer/songwriter and front man of the group Matchbox Twenty, for when their dog Ollie started to show similarly baffling symptoms.

“Lyme disease is a great mimicker,” says Rob, who with Marisol is spreading awareness about Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses through the Global Lyme Alliance and the Thomases’ animal charity, Sidewalk Angels Foundation. “You spend so much time going down the wrong rabbit hole.”

When other tests turned up negative, Rob and Marisol asked their veterinarian to screen for tick-borne illnesses. Bingo. Ollie tested positive for Bartonella, one of the most common (yet often undiagnosed) co-infections of Lyme disease that can have lifelong effects even when treated properly.

Tick bites can happen any time of year, so it’s best to use a preventative year-round.

Today, 10-year-old Ollie is doing well and on tour with the Thomases and their other pup, 13-year-old Sammy. “Their favorite thing in the world right now is when Rob gets off the stage and on the bus,” Marisol says. “It’s WrestleMania with these guys.”

After venturing out to find a grassy area to play and take care of business, the dogs get a “tick check” back on the bus. Marisol uses a tape roller on their fur and the couple’s clothes to catch any freeloaders: “You’d be surprised what you can get super-quick.”

Here are some other tips to help protect your pets from tick-borne illnesses:

Tweezers pulling an engorged tick out of an animal
Regularly check your pet even if you’re using a preventative. If you spot a tick, carefully remove it with tweezers.
Jason Ondreicka
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iStock.com

Use the right preventative. 

Make sure the product you choose is compatible with your pet’s lifestyle. For example, topical products may not be the best option for a dog who swims regularly, Hodges says. Only use products that are appropriate for your pet: Don’t use a dog product on a cat or vice versa. And don’t assume your flea protection covers ticks, too. Always check the label and follow the frequency and application directions carefully.

Be vigilant. 

It’s a myth that ticks only present a problem in certain areas of the country or during “tick season,” Hodges warns. Ticks can pop up nearly anytime and anywhere, including in urban areas. No preventative is foolproof, and since it can take 24 to 48 hours for an attached tick to transmit an infection to its host, it’s important to promptly and properly remove these parasites. “I think people believe that when it comes to pets, as long as you throw on some stuff, you’re fine,” says Marisol. “Ticks have become so much stronger. … At the end of the day, the important thing is to not get bitten.” Regularly check your pet’s coat for unwanted guests. Use preventative year-round or talk to your veterinarian about the Lyme disease vaccine.

Know the warning signs. 

Unlike people, pets won’t develop a bull’s-eye rash at the site of a tick bite. Symptoms of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses may not show up until weeks or months after a bite, and they are often vague, making them difficult and time-consuming to diagnose. Year-round prevention and observation can help keep your pet safe.

 


 

Warning signs

Talk with your veterinarian if you notice any of the following:

Icon illustration of a tired sleeping dog
Lethargy
Icon illustration of joint pain
Joint pain
Icon illustration of a skin rash
Skin rash
Icon illustration of a fever
Fever
Icon illustration of weight loss
Weight loss
Icon illustration of a decreased appetite
Decreased appetite or thirst
Icon illustration of a tick bite
Inflammation at or near a bite mark

From our magazine

This story originally appeared in our award-winning magazine for members, All Animals. Get informative and inspiring content like this delivered right to your door.

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All Animals magazine March/April/May 2020 cover image