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Don’t let ticks make your pets sick: Know how to protect them

Ticks are the bugs I love to hate. OK, technically they’re not insects, they’re arachnids, so they’re related to spiders. They have eight legs, no antennae.

With the relatively warm winter we’ve had this year, “tick season” is going to come early. Ticks don’t hibernate — they hide under leaf litter and snow.

Then they emerge and become active on days when temperatures climb above freezing, even in the dead of winter. So you’re never totally safe from ticks in our area. But because ticks like warm temperatures, peak “tick season” is summer and fall.

Being outdoors and enjoying nature is part of the DNA of central Pennsylvania. Unfortunate-ly our enjoyment of the woods and trails comes with a risk of encountering ticks and tick bites, both on ourselves and for our pets.

There’s nothing I hate more than coming home from a great day on a trail and finding ticks on one of my dogs.

How do ticks get on our pets? Ticks are sneaky little buggers! They use an ambush technique called “questing.” They climb on limb or branch with their legs extended and hitch a ride on an unsuspecting animal. Foliage along trails and dense understory growth (shrubs) are perfect hangouts for ticks.

Barberry is one of their favorites because their thorny branches provide protection for rabbits and small animals that are perfect hosts for ticks.

After every hike, or even after an hour in the backyard, be sure to check your pets for ticks.

On dogs, check in and around their ears, under their front legs, between their toes, under their collar or harness, on their eyelids, and inside their hind legs.

On cats, ticks are most often found around the ears, head and paws, under their tail, and under their collars if they wear one.

In general, ticks gravitate to warm dark places on any animal, so check there first.

They attach firmly to skin, so you may have to part their fur and search their skin. At first, you may mistake a tick for a skin tag, scab or wart.

What happens if you or your pet are bitten by a tick? First, don’t panic. Not every tick bite results in Lyme disease or other diseases. If your dog or cat is currently on a flea and tick preventative, the tick will die and fall off on its own or will be dead when you find it.

But if you do find a live tick, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends this way of removing it:

1. Wear latex or vinyl gloves to avoid contact with blood if the tick is engorged

2. Pull upward with a steady, even pressure to avoid breaking off the embedded mouth parts.

3. After removing the tick, clean the affected area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.

4. Dispose of the tick safely. If the tick is still alive, drop it in alcohol to kill it, wrap it securely in tape or flush it down the toilet.

As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

And this definitely applies to keeping your dog or cat free of ticks during tick season. It pays to use a proven flea and tick preventative. Your veterinarian can advise you on the ones that will work best for your pet.

Among the most popular for dogs are monthly chewable Nexgard tabs and Seresto collars.

Bravecto tablets for dogs and spot-on treatment for cats provide up to 3 months of protection.

Monthly Frontline spot-on treatments are effective as well. Although the initial outlay may seem a bit prohibitive, it’s worth investing in proven formulas to protect your pets.

What should you do if you suspect your dog or cat may have Lyme disease?

Noticeable symptoms include painful joint swelling and arthritis, as well as lethargy, dehydration and swollen lymph nodes. So contact your veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis and begin treatment.

Sue Williams can be contacted at altoonapets@gmail.com.

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