Tackling Ticks

 

by Dr. Mark Newkirk

No one likes ticks (except the birds that love to eat them), but like fleas and cockroaches, ticks are a fact of life. After a winter break in the northern states, they’re back with a vengeance come warmer weather and plague parts of the south all year round.

Many species of ticks can carry disease. From the more common Lyme, Erlichia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever to tick paralysis and Anaplasmosis, these bugs are bad news. Some diseases are species specific, but some, like Lyme disease, can infect deer, dogs and humans. Cats seem to be resistant to many tick diseases like Erlichia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever; although why this is so remains largely a mystery.

Lyme Disease

Dogs are 50 percent more likely to contract Lyme disease as humans. If left untreated it can cause serious, debilitating problems. Symptoms affecting joints and organs may be hidden in the early stages of the disease, so it’s important to have a dog tested every year and anytime the guardian suspects the dog has been exposed to ticks. The disease has been reported in every state.

The good news is that Lyme disease cannot be transmitted directly from a pet to family members. If ticks are typically found in an area, it’s wise to reduce the risk by inspecting canines and people several times a day when enjoying outdoor activities. An excellent vaccine exists for pets, although not for humans.

Ehrlichiosis

The second most common infectious disease in the United States, this potentially life threatening menace is spreading, carried by several common dog ticks. The parasite attacks the blood cells, rather than the joints. Intermittent fever and lethargy (which can signal various illnesses) are the main signs. The disease can result in permanent disability or death.

While there are no proven cases of direct transmission of the Ehrlichiosis parasite from dogs to people, ticks can transmit it directly to people. A simple in-office blood test can determine if a pet has this disease; blood screening will often show a decreased platelet count.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

This illness shows similar signs and symptoms as Lyme disease in dogs. The danger is that pet owners and vets often chalk them up to a sprained ligament or twisted knee, because the pet seems better in a day or two. Keys to diagnosis include the appearance of fever, repeated symptoms or lameness that shifts between legs. Again, a disease-specific blood test is helpful.

Treatment

No vaccine exists for Erlichia or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and the decision to vaccinate for Lyme disease depends on exposure risk. At the Alternative Care Center in Margate, New Jersey, we sometimes use nosodes, a homeopathic “vaccination” in the treatment or as a preventive measure for Lyme disease. Homeopathic treatment of active or resistant Lyme disease may use Lym D (from BioActive Nutritional) and Ledum, which can also be used in combination with antibiotics.

Some holistic vets believe that such homeopathy works with the body to boost the immune system in attacking the Lyme organism. Yet the only prevention measure approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the Lyme vaccine.

Primary treatment for all tick-borne diseases is the antibiotic doxycycline, taken as prescribed for three to four weeks. Using special tests after treatment will show if the disease is gone.

Tick Control

Ticks are tough. Daily grooming and combing to search for ticks remains the best non-medical treatment. Because we have found no truly holistic alternative with the desired effect, I do advise topical tick control rub-on products like Frontline and collars like Preventic. Be aware that veterinary versions of such products are both safer and more effective than retail brands.

Risk versus benefit to health is always the rule in considering the best route to take. The best advice for an individual animal will come from the family’s holistic veterinarian.

Mark D. Newkirk holds a veterinary medicines directorate degree and is the owner and director of Margate Animal Hospital and Alternative Care Center, in Margate, NJ. Phone consultations are available at 609-823-3031. For more information, visit AlternativeVet.com.

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