Bob Oley, PE, MSPH
Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention Expert
Public Health and Site Consultant

Tick-Borne Diseases and Your Pets

Your pets, especially dogs and cats, are easy targets and fair game for ticks whenever they go outside in areas endemic for ticks, which nowadays means just about anywhere. The woodlands, high grass and brushy areas, all those places your pets like to romp, can harbor scores of ticks.


Although the summer months are especially bad for ticks, your pets can be bitten just about any time of the year. The types of ticks likely to bite your pets include deer ticks, American dog ticks, brown dog ticks and Lone Star ticks. The diseases these ticks can infect your pets with include Lyme disease, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tick paralysis. While ticks make a meal of your pet’s blood, they will stay attached on your pet anywhere from a few days to a week’s time. Once fully engorged, they then drop off your pet and use the blood meal to grow/molt to their next stage of development, or reproduce making thousands of eggs.


After having been outside, if your pets become infested with ticks, they may itch themselves, and chew on their feet and lower extremities where ticks are likely to first come in contact with them. Once on your pets, ticks will generally move towards your pets’ ears, particularly the inside, and the area around their eyes, because here the skin is the thinnest and the easiest to attach to.


Once bitten by a tick and infected with one or more tick-borne diseases, your pet can experience a variety of symptoms which you should be on the alert for. These can initially include loss of appetite, fever, behavioral changes, and lethargy. If left untreated, these symptoms can regress to irreversible conditions such as lameness, anorexia, cardiac issues, blindness, and crippling joint arthritis. If caught early however, antibiotics can be very beneficial in treating your pets.


You must be very careful when removing a tick from your pet. You should wear latex gloves to prevent getting the tick’s saliva on you, and becoming infected with a disease yourself. Using pointed tweezers, you should grasp the tick as close to the pet’s skin as possible and steadily pull the tick straight out as you would a splinter. Once the tick is removed, you should disinfect the pet’s skin area with a disinfectant such as rubbing alcohol, remove and dispose of the gloves, and wash your hands thoroughly. Do not try to remove the tick with Vaseline, a lit match, nail polish, etc., as these methods may cause the tick to regurgitate disease organisms back into your pet.


What can you do to prevent your pets from getting bitten by ticks? You can keep them indoors, especially cats. However, if you are walking your pets outside, you can try to stay out of tick infested regions like woodlands, high grasses, and brushy areas. Lawns, where the grass is cut short and exposed to sunlight, represent low risk areas for exposure to ticks. And of course, walking your pets on paved sidewalks or gravel and wood chip pathways also represents good practice, as these low humidity areas which ticks do not like, are considered very low risk.


Additionally, there are tick preventive products you can put on your pets such as monthly liquid spot-on treatments, shampoo rinses, sprays, tick collars, etc. which you should consult with your veterinarian on before using. Some of these products are not safe to use on cats and young puppies. There is also a Lyme disease prevention vaccine available for dogs which, if you live in a tick endemic area, you should seriously consider using on the advice of your veterinarian.


Pets can bring ticks into your home from outside. So being careful where you walk your pets, checking them daily for ticks, and using tick prevention measures will help you protect your pets, as well as yourselves and family members, from tick-borne diseases. You are also well advised to keep your outdoor pets off your beds and couches so they do not transfer their ticks to you.