In the span of less than a week, I found two ticks on my dog Harper, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel. In 25 years of dog ownership, that was a first. We live in Southern California, so ticks are a fact of life, but Harper doesn’t typically go into areas where ticks are found. We don’t have a yard, and she’s not allowed on local hiking trails. I can only surmise that the ticks hitched a ride on me – ick! – after a hike and made their way onto Harper.
Tick populations are increasing. And there aren’t just more of them; they’re being found in more places than in the past, says veterinary parasitologist Dr. Susan E. Little of Oklahoma State University. Milder winters; more white-tailed deer, which carry the tiny arachnids; and increasing development in formerly rural areas are among the factors in the ticks’ spread.
Like me, you might never have had to worry about ticks before, but now is a good time to talk to your veterinarian about their prevalence in your area. Many tick species have moved out of their original habitats, carried away by migratory birds, coyotes and deer. One or more species of ticks can now be found in every state, including Alaska and Hawaii. Ticks used to be active from spring through fall, but warmer winters mean that some species are staying active as late as February, depending on where they are located.
That’s bad news, because ticks are major carriers of diseases that affect humans as well as dogs and cats. Most of us are familiar with Lyme disease, but ticks also transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and Cytauxzoon felis, which infects cats. The ticks that primarily transmit these debilitating and sometimes deadly diseases are the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), the Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) and the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis).
Protect yourself and your pets from tick-borne diseases with the following measures: