A Moment of Paws: It's tick season; prevention is the best weapon

Protective booties are a good idea for dogs like Ellie, shown out for a stroll in the summer heat.

Since the onset of COVID-19, have you been spending more time outdoors? If so, you’re not alone. According to a recent study by the Outdoor Industry Association, less than 20 percent of Americans spent time outdoors more than once a week before the pandemic. However since then, the sale of outdoor equipment has soared, and a recent survey found that 18 percent of respondents are now spending a significant amount of time outside.

Spending more time outdoors, hiking, running and walking may put you and your beloved pets at risk for tick-borne diseases. Ticks can be found anywhere from the dog park to your backyard, but wooded areas and tall grasses present the most risk.

A colleague of mine was telling me recently how she went for a short hike with her canine companion, and pulled more than a dozen ticks off herself and her dog! If you suspect that a tick may have bitten your furry friend, just keep a close eye on them. As long as they are eating, drinking, and acting normally, have no fear, but if you suspect something is not right, contact your veterinarian.

Some signs your dog has been infected by a tick-borne disease include fever, loss of appetite, acute lameness, and swelling in the joints, among others. A blood test will determine if Lyme disease or another tick-borne disease is present, and if it is positive and caught early, a course of antibiotics usually provides effective treatment. However, given that tick-borne diseases can trigger recurring health issues, it is vital to follow recommendations for ongoing follow-up care after diagnosis and treatment.

So with ticks seemingly everywhere outdoors, how can we prevent getting bitten? The measures are relatively simple, and it is a multi-pronged approach.

Preventatives — Speak with your veterinarian to determine the best tick preventative to use.
Vaccination — Speak with your veterinarian about the Lyme disease vaccine.

Avoiding outdoor areas where ticks are known to inhabit. – After spending time outdoors, whether in the backyard or after a hike, check both yourself and your pet for ticks. For dogs, pay particular attention to their ears, eyelids, between toes, genital areas, and around the collar.
Maintaining your yard – Keep the lawn mowed and shrubbery trimmed around your home.

Despite the forecast for an above-average tick season, it’s simply a matter of being aware and being vigilant to protect both yourself and your pet. We all have so much on our minds, especially now, so make these measures part of your routine and it will become one less thing to think about!

Dr. Edward Schettino is the president and CEO of the Animal Rescue League of Boston, and has a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Pet questions? Email ARL at press@arlboston.org.