Protecting patients, clients, and the environment from ticks
Gloria and her dog Larry are having a night in after a fun-filled weekend full of cookouts and yard work when she notices a new bump behind his ear. Upon closer inspection, she realizes it’s a tick and starts googling what to do. Gloria finds multiple articles filled with information ranging from “use coconut oil” to “he will die.” In a panic, she rushes him to the emergency department. After a 6-hour wait, she returns home tick free but is too worried to sleep.
This situation is what we want our clients to avoid. The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) reported that 464,125 dogs have tested positive for exposure to tick-borne diseases (Lyme, Anaplasma, or Ehrlichia) already in 2023. Climate change also allows these vectors to move north, along with their diseases. Between 2008 and 2015, Canada saw a significant increase in seroprevalence of Borrelia burgdorferi (144.4%) and Ehrlichia (150%).1 Globalization has also led to the spread of the devastating, invasive Asian longhorned tick.2
What’s a veterinary professional to do in the quest for a tick-free summer? Let’s look at prevention in pets, their humans, and the environment for a multimodal approach to tick prevention.
From topicals to collars, tick prevention options are enough to make a veterinary professional’s head spin, let alone our clients’. Not to mention that with the range of prices, it’s hard to fit in an extensive chat about ticks in a 20-minute appointment. Luckily, there are solutions.
The CAPC offers a useful chart on its website that your team could edit to add prices of the products you carry for your clients to take home.3 Be sure to offer a range of priced products to allow access to care. You can also educate clients through newsletters or social media. Utilize all of your team to discuss prevention; the veterinarian doesn’t need to do all the client communication.
The CAPC recommends all dogs be treated year-round. (Remember, Ixodes ticks will come out once the temperature is above 40 °F.)4,5 Help clients understand their pet’s risks by taking a personalized approach and discuss their pet’s activity with them. Do they go to the lake once a month or go hiking every weekend? Is wildlife present where their pets spend time? For pets that receive the Lyme disease vaccine, ensure clients understand that the vaccine doesn’t replace prevention.
Discuss tick prevention with cat clients, as well. Try changing the question from “Is your cat an indoor or outdoor animal?” to “What activities do you do with your cat?” Many clients who consider their cats indoor have a catio or go for walks on a leash.
Educate your clients on tick checks. Send your clients home with a diagram on where to look for ticks, and information on how to remove them properly.6 The CDC provides excellent diagrams for pets and humans.7,8 Ensure that they know to remove ticks immediately, as some can transmit Ehrlichia in as little as 3 hours.9 Include how to dispose of the tick–ideally in a container of isopropyl alcohol to be identified later. Yes, it matters! There are different diseases to consider, and the Rhipicephalus ticks can infest homes.10 Inform clients that if they find a tick on their dog, they should call you, but you likely will recommend testing after 3 to 4 weeks. This may help to avoid a panicked “I must get in today!” call.
As veterinary professionals, we have a duty to public health. Homes with pets are 1.49 times more at risk of finding a tick attached to a household member than those without pets.11 Advise clients to apply tick repellent in tick-inhabited areas and wear permethrin-treated clothing. Remind them to conduct tick checks on themselves, too. Further, recommend showering within 2 hours of coming inside to help remove ticks and putting clothes into the dryer or washing in hot water to help kill any ticks.8
As veterinary professionals, it is also our responsibility to help prevent ticks from spreading in the environment. Ensure that the animals you are signing health certificates for are tick free. If the client has control of their environment, empower them to take steps to prevent ticks from inhabiting their space by keeping grass short, putting stone edging around their yards if near a wooded area, and keeping log piles and bird feeders away from their homes. They can also remove exotic, invasive bushes, such as the Japanese barberry, and exchange them for native plants to discourage ticks while encouraging native pollinators.
Those who can’t control their environment will still benefit from education on avoiding tall grass and taking their pets near areas with high rodent activity while keeping the edge of their yards free of leaf litter.12 Taking steps to stop climate change is also part of tick prevention.
Educate clients on a multimodal tick prevention approach for their pets by promoting year-round prevention, empowering them to do regular tick checks, and educating them on how to remove a tick and what the next steps are. Remember that as veterinary professionals, we are also charged with public health. Lastly, ensure clients are aware of ways to manage their environment.
This way, next time the scenario with clients, such as Gloria, can have a different outcome. She may notice a new bump behind her dog Larry’s ear and realize it’s a tick, but now can retrieve the handout her veterinarian gave her at the last visit, get some sharp tweezers, and remove the tick. She can place it in a Ziploc bag with isopropyl alcohol and realize it looks shriveled. She would assume this means the prevention her dog is on killed it, but she will call in the morning to see whether they would like to retest Larry in a few weeks anyway. She can enjoy the rest of her night worry-free with Larry.
A Pocket of Prevention is a recurring column brought to you by the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine (ACVPM). The ACVPM is an American Veterinary Medical Association-recognized veterinary specialty organization offering board certification in preventive medicine with the option of a specialty in epidemiology. Becoming a diplomate of the ACVPM means joining some of the most distinguished veterinary professionals in preventive medicine and public health at national and international levels. For more information, go to acvpm.org.