Families and individuals looking forward to some outdoor summer recreation should not forget to protect themselves and their pets against bug bites — tick bites in particular. It’s not just that finding a tick latched onto you is gross and the bite painful or uncomfortable — getting bitten by a tick can pose real dangers for both humans and animals. So it’s important to know what your risks are, and what to do to prevent the likelihood of a bite.
Lyme Disease: A Major Health Concern
The primary health threat associated with being bitten by a tick is Lyme Disease, which is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and carried by deer ticks, or black-legged ticks. Typically, Lyme won’t be transmitted unless the tick has been attached for over twenty-four hours, but since deer ticks are extremely small and not always easy to spot, it could be on you for a while before you find it.
This is one reason why catching Lyme in time can be difficult. Another is that Lyme can be difficult to diagnose, especially as symptoms are varied and do not always show up immediately. One common early sign of Lyme disease is a rash that resembles a bullseye around the site of the bite. Later symptoms include fatigue, fever, and aches. If Lyme is not treated within thirty days of transmission, it can become a severe long-term ailment with symptoms that can be life-altering.
What to do if you suspect you have Lyme:
If you have recently been bitten by a deer tick or have discovered the classic bullseye rash anywhere on your body, consider seeking treatment for Lyme. If you have managed to remove the tick, you can secure it in a sealable plastic bag to have it tested to see if it is a carrier. It is also possible for you to be tested for Lyme, but early tests tend to be inconclusive, since at those stages there will likely be insufficient antibodies to be picked up by a test. Many professionals recommend an intensive antibiotic course for those who have been bitten by a deer tick and are showing possible Lyme symptoms.
Lyme disease and your pets:
Unfortunately, Lyme can infect various domesticated animals, including dogs and horses. While it’s unlikely that an infected pet would transmit Lyme to their human, nonetheless, the disease can be serious and debilitating for certain animals. And it’s not only Lyme that you need to worry about when it comes to ticks and dogs. Ticks can carry other diseases as well, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and ehrlichiosis, which are also a concern for humans. And of course, tick bites that go untreated may become infected, too.
What should you do if you find a tick on your pet? A good first step is to consult your veterinarian to familiarize yourself with the risks involved and which diseases might be more common in your specific location. If you’re already familiar with the process of removing ticks and the precautions needed, you could remove the tick yourself. There are a few different methods for removing ticks, all ranging in effectiveness, but those methods are best discussed with your vet and are beyond the scope of this article. If you do remove the tick yourself, try to avoid handling the tick directly. Do your best to remove the whole tick with the head attached, and once removed, double check that the head is intact. Because of the tick’s barbed proboscis, the tick body can sometimes detach from the head when removing it, leaving the head embedded under the skin. If the head is embedded, removing it is again beyond the scope of this article and is best discussed with a veterinary professional.
If you and your pet take frequent walks in nature, it may be wise to equip your pet with a DOGPAK K9 backpack carrying the necessary supplies to handle tick removal. This should include disposable gloves, a tick removal tool, tweezers, some cotton swabs, disinfectant wipes, and a sealable bag for storing the tick in case it’s needed for testing.
What you can do to prevent tick bites:
One of the most effective ways of protecting yourself against Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses is to do a tick check after any outdoor excursion, especially through woods or tall grass. If you find a tick on yourself or your child, remove it carefully using tweezers or trying the cotton swab method followed up with disinfecting the bite area.
Another way you can protect your family from ticks is to create a tick-free outdoor environment. Be aware of which areas around your home might pose a risk to your children or your pets. If your yard is heavily overgrown, you can consider clearing it out to reduce likely habitats for ticks, possibly with the help of a lawn care professional.
For your pets, there are several items available that can help provide for their comfort and safety. Speak with a veterinary professional to help you make an informed decision about those products and which will best suit your pet’s needs. Some products will kill a tick only after it has bitten. Others might serve as a flea and tick repellent to help prevent bites.
Worry about ticks should not prevent you and your family from enjoying nature, but you do need to be prepared and aware in order to avoid the likelihood of being bitten, and have a plan for how to proceed in the event of a tick bite.
*Article by Sheila Johnson: Now that self-care is a daily priority, Sheila spends time with friends, goes on weekly dates with her husband, takes yoga classes, practices meditation, and hits the gym.
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