Summer is a wonderful time to get outdoors and spend time walking, hiking, and playing with your dog (or cat!). But the ever-present worry of tick-borne disease can put a damper on your adventures. Just how big is the risk for our pets to catch a tick-borne disease in New York City? Well, as you would expect, the risk for city dwellers and their pets is predominantly associated with travel outside of the city — upstate, Long Island, and surrounding states.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no risk of your pet picking up a tick in the city. Local parks are home to pervasive, endemic tick populations with the potential to carry disease — especially in Staten Island and the Bronx, where the parks are connected to wooded areas with a native deer population.
“Tick Season” and a Rising Risk
Ticks (and fleas) thrive in warmer, more humid weather, which is why we’ve all traditionally considered spring and summer to be “tick season.” But the truth is, ticks can be active at any time of the year if temperatures rise above freezing. With changing climate patterns that have led to shorter winters and an overall warming of temperatures, it is likely that “tick season” will continue to grow longer and more severe.
And this rising risk is compounded by the fact that a warming climate is causing native tick habitats to evolve and expand, bringing new species of ticks to NYC and the surrounding areas, along with the different varieties of tick-borne diseases that they carry. Indeed, rates of tick-borne disease have been trending upward in both humans and their pets in the city for decades.
At All Creatures, the most common tick-borne disease we detect in our patients is Lyme disease (caused by the black-legged tick, or as it’s more commonly known, deer tick), followed by ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. We typically do this using an in-house SNAP 4DX blood test, which screens for all of these diseases, as well as heartworm disease. While an alarming one in ten of these tests comes back positive, the SNAP test only checks for antibodies, which indicate exposure to the disease, but not active illness. So, if a pet who is acting well with no symptoms tests positive, this most often means they have successfully dealt with it without any help from us!
For pets who do develop symptoms — which can include lethargy; stiff, painful joints; loss of appetite; and fever — treatment is typically a course of antibiotics for several weeks. (In some cases, we may also recommend a course of antibiotics for non-symptomatic pets.) And the good news is that most pets respond very well — especially if the disease is detected and treated promptly.
Prevention Is the Best Game Plan
Ticks prefer to live in shady, moist areas in the grass or shrubs near ground level, where they can most effectively find and latch onto small mammals or birds — precisely the kind of territory where our pets love to play and explore. So, prevention is the key to protecting your pet against tick-borne disease.
We strongly recommend that all our clients who spend any time outdoors with their pet use one of the many safe and reliable oral tick-preventive products that are widely available, such as Nexgard or Simparica, or topical products such as K9 Advantix or the Seresto Collar. For some dogs, we may also recommend the additional protection that can be provided by the Lyme vaccination.
Most importantly, inspect your pet (and yourself) promptly upon returning from any outdoor activities where ticks might be present. Be thorough — deer ticks are quite small, only about the size of a poppy seed. Typically, it takes hours or even days for a tick to transfer disease to its host — so the quicker you remove the tick, the less likely the risk of transmission!
The Most Common Ticks Found on NYC Dogs
What to Do if You Find a Tick on Your Pet
If you do find a tick that has already attached itself to your pet, you should remove it immediately using clean, pointed-tip tweezers. (See here for proper technique and tick disposal.) We recommend waiting 60 to 90 days after the tick bite before bringing your pet into the practice for a SNAP 4DX test, because it takes at least that much time for enough antibodies to be present in the blood to be detected.
And, with all of this in mind, don’t forget to enjoy yourself and have fun when you are outdoors with your furry friends!
Learn how to protect your dog from ticks and other parasites by contacting our hospital about our pet wellness plans.