Ticks: A Year-round Problem
Think ticks are just a summer problem? Think again. In warmer climates, ticks are a year-round problem. Even in colder climates, ticks can wake from their winter slumber and become active if the temperature rises above freezing. Some ticks, like the brown dog tick, can even survive indoors and inside kennels year-round. For these reasons, the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends year-round tick control.1 So what can we do to protect our patients from tick-borne illnesses year-round?
Educate your clients about tick-borne diseases
As with other aspects of veterinary medicine, it all begins with client education. Pet owners need to understand that ticks are more than a nuisance; they are dangerous disease vectors that can pose a threat to their pets and family. Pet owners should know that ticks spread Lyme disease as well as other tick-borne diseases with significant morbidity, such as ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, tularemia and babesiosis.
Teach clients to recognize the common signs and symptoms of tick-borne diseases. If they know what to look for, they are more likely to bring their pet in if it becomes sick. However, remind clients that the signs of many tick-borne illnesses can be very subtle or may not show at all. If their pet has been exposed to ticks, they need to know to bring their animal to their veterinarian as soon as possible for a physical examination and screening tests. When pet owners understand the significance of tick-borne diseases, they are more likely to be active participants and comply with preventive measures to lower the risk of disease.
Engage clients in disease prevention
Make sure your clients utilize one of the numerous preventive products available year-round. Although these preventive measures are effective, it is important that your clients realize none of the options provides 100% protection.
Your clients should also know:
- What a tick looks like and how to properly remove one using forceps to avoid contact with tick contents and prevent zoonotic infection.
- If they are unable to remove the tick, they should promptly bring their pet to your veterinary clinic for assistance.
- Since it takes 24–48 hours from the initial feeding for the spirochetes to travel to the tick’s salivary glands and into the host, ticks should be removed promptly. Encourage pet parents to inspect their dogs daily for ticks.
- The value of annual screenings to detect tick-borne diseases and the benefit of early detection.
Deliver a consistent message
The success of any disease prevention program depends upon effective communication with the client.
- Since clients spend considerable time with ancillary staff, educate your receptionists, assistants and technicians about tick-borne illnesses and prevention so that your clinic sends a consistent message. For starters, make sure your staff knows that ticks can be a year-round problem. They should also know what you recommend for prevention and testing. Boost your staff’s tick IQ by having them take one or more of the complimentary online courses offered at the IDEXX Learning Center, such as Dr. William D. Saxon's self study, The “Prevent” in Preventive Care Means Early Detection, and Dr. Matt Eberts' archived webinar, Coinfection: A Practitioner’s Approach—Lyme Disease and Anaplasmosis.
- Reinforce the message with handouts and other supplemental information. In order to increase awareness, mail newsletters, send email blasts and post information about tick-borne diseases on your clinic’s Facebook page or through other social media. Also, take advantage of customer-facing materials on the Pet Health Network website and direct your clients to reputable, user-friendly websites like dogsandticks.com and pethealthnetwork.com on your clinic website.
- Finally, do not underestimate the effectiveness of face-to-face conversations. Clients trust their veterinarians. Spending a little extra time with them discussing the importance of tick-borne diseases and year-round prevention can make all the difference.
Tick-borne illnesses are a significant cause of morbidity in people and pets. To protect your clients and their pets, educate them about the importance of year-round tick prevention and how to spot the signs of disease. Make sure you and your staff are spreading the message of tick prevention during visits and reinforcing it with traditional mailings as well as social media. The goal is to make sure your clients know that ticks pose a threat to animals and people, but by following your recommendations, they can protect themselves and their four-legged family members.
Even in colder climates, ticks can wake from their winter slumber and become active if the temperature rises above freezing.
Ruth MacPete, DVM
Dr. Ruth MacPete is a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. MacPete has been writing and speaking about pets and pet health care for over 10 years. She has written for various magazines, such as Cat Fancy, Bark, Fetch!, Kittens USA and Pet Business and blogs regularly for Pet Health Network. She has appeared on The Doctors and GMA-LIVE, as well as numerous TV and radio stations throughout the country. In addition, she is a frequent lecturer at national veterinary conferences.