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Ticks Make Me Sick!

 

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This mild and beautiful Fall has been a joy for all of us at Sarah’s Pet Services. Nothing beats taking the kaleidoscopic rainbow of seasonal foliage and a few lungfuls of crisp Autumn air, but every upside has its down, and this warm weather means the ticks are getting frisky again, chomping down in a last gasp extinction burst of activity before winter comes and shuts down their party time.

Ticks are tiny arachnids (related to spiders) that live as parasites, attaching to animals like deer, dogs, and other mammals, as well as birds and even the occasional reptile. Besides leaving a nasty bite, they can carry a wide variety of disease pathogens from the well-publicised Lyme disease to a plethora of other gross infections. Some say they serve an ecological purpose, by eliminating infirm animals and keeping populations in check, but I say mostly they just tick me off!

Stay alert, ticks are very, very small! They can be the color and appearance of a watermelon seed or all the way down to just a little poppyseed. Either way, they are really seedy.

 

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Preventing Tick Bites

The most important thing to do to avoid tick bites is to check yourself thoroughly after every outdoor activity in an area where there might be ticks. Ticks live in the woods, yes, but they also can be found in fields and lawns, so please give yourself, your children, and your pets a good look over when you are done. Also check any clothes or gear, because ticks will catch a ride and wait until they find a good meal. They are persistent little buggers!

When you are walking, stay in the center of the trail. Ticks will sit on lower grass and bushes and wait for a passing animal to brush by. If you are going to be walking in a area that has a high likelihood of ticks, wear a long sleeve shirt tucked in at your waist and long pants tucked in to your socks. Thats a lot of good tucking! Light colored clothes will make ticks more obvious when you are checking yourself over.

Give your puppy the once-over by feeling along her fur for any “bumps”. Ticks are very, very small(see above) when they haven’t fed, but they balloon up as they fill with nutritious blood and become engorged. Disgusting little raisins…

 

Better Living Through Chemicals

Many people don’t like to spray themselves with poisonous chemicals, but I see it as a necessary cost of doing business in the woods. You can spray yourself with an insect repellent that contains Deet (I usually go for 25-30% concentration). This is usually a topical spray that you put on your clothes and skin to keep away bugs. Works pretty good for mosquitoes too!

You can also treat your clothes with a chemical called Permethrin. This is applied to your clothes and gear, NOT YOUR SKIN, and can last for several washings. Follow instructions carefully to be safe.

There are many products that you can use to topically treat your dogs, such as Frontline and Advantix. Often these will not repel the ticks, but rather poison them, so your dog may still get a bite, but the tick will die before being able to transfer most diseases. These products are usually applied monthly or can be found in treated collars.

There are also many “natural” products for repelling ticks as well as many recipes for homemade sprays found online. I have yet to test any of these, so I can’t say if they are effective. Many of the recipes I found looked like they might make a decent hot sauce, but I’m not sure how they’d do against bugs! Let us know if you’ve found any great homebrewed concoctions…

 

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So, You’ve Decided to Get Bit by a Tick…

If you find a tick on you or your pet, the very first step is to remove the little devil. Use tweezers to get down in there, as close to the skin as possible. Pull up carefully, so that you don’t accidentally rip the body off, but leave the head embedded. That is nasty!  Then wash the site with rubbing alcohol to make sure it doesn’t become infected.

After you’ve pulled the tick out, you can be creative about destroying the little jerk. Burning, flushing, cutting, and crushing are a few of my favorite methods. But make sure you kill it dead, as ticks are nigh invulnerable!

If you are the paranoid type, you can save the tick’s body and have it tested to know just exactly which diseases you’ve been exposed to… For $50, the University of Massachusetts Laboratory of Medical Zoology will hook you up.

Keep an eye on the location of your bite. It is natural for bug bites to get red and itchy, but be on alert for a “bullseye” ring or rash around the site of the bite. This can show up at any time in the month after you’re bit. Also watch for flu-like symptoms, such as chills, fever, aches and pains, swollen lymph nodes, etc. Mostly you will feel like garbage!

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms after being exposed, please go see your doctor and get tested ASAP. Time can be a huge factor in treatment.

 

Prognosis

If you are a healthy adult with a strong immune system and you catch the disease early enough. a course of antibiotics is often enough to treat a Lyme infection.  This goes for dogs as well.

Make sure you follow your doctor or veterinarian’s full instructions, because if an infectious disease such as Lyme is undertreated, it can lay dormant and then flare up again later. No fun.

As always, when taking antibiotics, you may want to supplement with probiotics, as they can wreak havoc on your gut’s delicate balance of microbes.

The real concern is for the very young and very old, those who have compromised immune response, and those who neglect diagnosis until the infection is fully developed. This is why populations at higher risk must be watched extra carefully. Children and dogs may not be able to communicate exactly what’s wrong with them, so you must stay alert for any unusual symptoms. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

The Bottom Line

Don’t let a fear of ticks and their diseases keep you from exploring the outdoors. With a little heads up prevention and a keen lookout, we can stop tick borne illness before it becomes a problem for you or your pets!