Battling the Warm-Weather Menace: Ticks!

If you own a Pyr or Pyr mix, you’re probably used to them bringing in some “decoration” after they’ve been out in the yard, whether it’s sticker branches, greenery, or the odd worm who was minding his own business in that crater your dog just dug. Or … those dreaded ticks. An increase in white-tailed deer and wild turkey populations has expanded the range of ticks. Many parts of the country, such as the Mid-Atlantic region, have had a mild winter, so ticks are out in force, which means dog owners already should be using flea and tick prevention. (By the time you notice a flea on your dog, there are already lots more in various stages from egg to larvae.)

It seems that every year these external parasites become more resistant to the products meant to eliminate them, so you will see several new products in the market each year. That’s one of the reasons you should consult your vet, because choosing the right product for your dog (or cat) depends on their age, breed, general health, and any medications they are on. This video from the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) gives some general guidelines on using these products safely, including sticking to weight-appropriate dosages and keeping cats and dogs separated for 24 hours or more, depending upon the product, unless it’s an oral medication.

What about the recent uproar about Seresto collars? A USA Today investigation claims nearly 1,700 pet deaths are due to the collars and a Congressional subcommittee is calling for the products to be temporarily recalled. We asked one vet about her reaction which was “checked on the seresto collars and still will recommend them. It may be that the reports were from randomly acquired online collars because there are not as many deaths verified by veterinarians and purchased from veterinarians. I have seen less side effects from Seresto than most anything else I’ve used.  They have sold more than 25 million collars. And have a less than 0.3% incident rate.  And I have hardly even seen the most often reported hair loss from the collar.  And they did not change the formula when they were bought out by Elanco. Every chemical is a chemical with a certain risk. So don’t use chemicals unless you need them. And if you do, use one that works.”

Be sure to follow the exact directions for that particular product, for example, a flea and tick collar must be fairly snug so that it reaches the dog’s skin, important in our thick-coated breed. Some products kill ticks on contact or are absorbed into the bloodstream and kill the ticks that attach to and feed on the dog; the downside is that the dog may have a bite wound and possible infection. Other products repel ticks, so prevent them coming into contact with your dog or cat, or have anti-feeding effects if they do come in contact, but don’t kill them, so they can still be in the environment. There are differences: products that also work on mosquitos; while some products only kill adult fleas. Some pet owners prefer to stick to natural products such as essential oils or combinations sold as natural herbal spot-on products, but consult your vet on the efficacy of these options. Some vets may even combine the use of oral and topical products. Call on your vet (or pediatrician) to help you decide which options are best if you have small children. If you’re using a different or new product than in the past, apply it when you can monitor your pet for the first 48 hours to watch for adverse reactions. Chewy has a section on the major flea and tick preventatives on their website if you are considering your options.

Ticks have become a major health issue, both for animals and humans. While not all ticks carry disease, the American dog tick, Brown dog tick and the Deer tick (Black-legged tick) are widespread and along with other tick species such as the Rocky Mountain wood tick, Lone Star tick, Western black-legged tick and Gulf Coast tick, are known to carry various diseases, from Lyme to Anaplasmosis to Ehrlichia, Babesiosis, Tularemia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Tick Paralysis, and will bite dogs, cats, horses and people. Lyme disease, Ehrlichia and Anaplasmosis can cause joint pain and lameness, and even personality changes, or pica (eating non-food items such as dirt or licking furniture or metal) from anemia. Visit this page for more information about the incidence of tick-borne diseases in your area.

The best way to avoid these issues are to use collars, oral or topical products that have been proven most effective against ticks, do an annual blood test, and to vacuum your home often, especially after you or your dog have been in a wooded area. Washing your dog’s bed each week is another good precaution. Check your dog for ticks every day after they’ve been outside, and keep your yard mowed short, remove wood and brush piles, and decomposing leaves; ticks love shady, damp areas. And watch for the subtle signs of tick-borne illness in your dog: loss of appetite, depression and lack of energy (general lethargy), lameness/joint pain (that can shift between legs), spontaneous nosebleeds, and discharge from nose or eyes.

We often receive questions on using the Lyme vaccine on Great Pyrenees dogs, and have seen an increase in the usage of this vaccine, which is considered a “non-core” vaccine by the AVMA. Many of the veterinarians we work with will not administer this vaccine for several reasons, including serious side effects such as severe lameness that mimics that of acute Lyme disease, and anaphylactic reactions. Pharmaceutical companies as a rule only test for reactions with 24 hours of administration of the drugs, so no long-term studies are available. Instead, the vets we work with advise using the collars or topical products. Unlike the diseases against which most vaccines are meant to build immunity, such as distemper or parvo, Lyme is a bacterial infection, not a viral infection, and is treated with an antibiotic such as doxycycline. The current Lyme vaccines are not guaranteed effective against all variations of Lyme, and DO NOT offer any protection at all against other tick-borne diseases such as Ehrlichia, Babesiosis and Anaplasmosis. As the Centers for Disease Control states on this page, “Vaccines are not available for all the tick-borne diseases that dogs can get, and they don’t keep the dogs from bringing ticks into your home.”

Correspondingly, we have also seen an unusual link between sudden-onset aggression in dogs who had behaved normally prior to receiving the Lyme vaccine, and developed aggression (extreme in some cases) within days or weeks of receiving the vaccine. This page gives additional facts about this connection. We can only wonder whether Great Pyrenees with their slow metabolism are more sensitive to the vaccine, just as some breeds have been proven to be more sensitive to certain medications. Not every Pyr or Pyr mix who has had the vaccine shows these symptoms, but the instances have been severe and are becoming common enough for us to share our concern and caution adopters against using this non-core vaccine for their dogs. Lyme vaccines were removed from the human market but continue to be marketed for use in canines. NGPR adoption contracts contain a clause strongly recommending that the adopted dog does not get a Lyme vaccine. Primary prevention of infection by avoiding infested areas and using preventative products is the best approach.

Enjoy your time outdoors this Spring, but take the time to check for and be prepared to remove ticks. Probe in between your dog’s toes, behind the ears, in their armpits, around the head and around the tail. When your dog comes inside, you also can stand them on a white sheet and use a hair-dryer set on warm to blow through your pyr’s thick fur: ticks hate heat and if they’re not burrowed in yet, will drop off onto the sheet and you can then dispatch them. For yourself, take off your clothes after being out in the woods and throw them in the dryer on a warm setting for a few minutes, then remove the clothes and look for the ticks in the dryer. There are several small tick-removal devices, such as the Ticked Off TM remover that looks like a spoon, TickEaseTM tweezers, Tick TwisterTM, and Tick StickTM that you can carry on a key chain or in your pocket or small bag to remove these unwanted, disease-carrying visitors when they hitch a ride on you or your pets.