Pet Ownership Doubles Risk of Finding Ticks

July 12, 2017
Kerry Lengyel

Researchers have found that the chance of finding a tick on someone in your household doubles if you own a dog or cat, potentially increasing the risk for tickborne disease transmission among people.

You’re lying on your couch surfing through channels on your TV, and you spot one—a tick on the back of your leg. According to researchers from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, this is twice as likely to happen to pet owners as non—pet owners.

Results of a study published online last month in Zoonoses and Public Health showed that owning a pet dog or cat more than doubles the odds that a human living in the household will find a tick on himself or herself, and that this could potentially increase the risk for tickborne diseases such as Lyme disease among people.

The research team analyzed data collected by TickNET, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiative that aims to prevent tickborne diseases across the country.

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Data were collected via survey from 2727 households in Connecticut, Maryland, and New York—states where Lyme disease is endemic and tick exposure is highest. More than half of the households owned a dog, a cat, or both, and about 88% said they used some type of tick control on their pets.

About 31% of households with pets reported finding a tick crawling on a human in the household compared with only 20% of households without pets. In addition, 19% of those in pet-owning households found a tick attached to a human in the home; this occurred in 14% of non—pet owning households. About 20% of households with pets reported finding ticks on their pets.

“It makes sense that people who have pets, especially dogs, are more likely to be around fields or areas where ticks could be hanging out,” said Bruno Chomel, DrSc, DVM, MS, PhD, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, who was not part of this study. “Pets can bring these parasites into the human environment, especially if they sit on couches or sleep in beds with owners.”

Besides owning a pet, researchers also believe that certain characteristics of properties may correlate with the difference in numbers, such as owning a vegetable garden, compost pile or log pile.

“Ticks can transmit disease to people and their pets, particularly in the warmer months when [ticks] are most active,” said lead study author Erin H. Jones, MS. The authors recommend that all pets and people in pet-owning households be checked daily for ticks; they also encourage pet owners to consult with their veterinarian about available products for tick control.

When looking at the prevalence of tickborne diseases, though, the research team found no difference between pet-owning and non—pet owning households—both reported 20% verified tickborne illness.