You’d think that Scout’s House, as a rehab therapy center, wouldn’t care too much about ticks. But care we do—and a great deal. And if you have a dog or cat, you should too. These little blood suckers are showing up in greater numbers in California and infecting our dogs and cats with a whole new host of potentially deadly diseases.
Tick-borne diseases are on the rise in California, as well as all over the country. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, the US is experiencing a significant tick expansion, with new species of ticks—and new tick-transmitted diseases—moving into new areas across the county. Veterinary Week reported an alarming 30% increase in the number of dogs exposed to tick-borne diseases between 2006 and 2010. And a national survey of veterinary clinics conducted by Idexx Laboratories in 2008 found positive tests for three nasty tick-borne diseases (Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis) in most states.
Little Mouths of Horrors
As parasites, ticks attach themselves to your dog or cat, feed on your pet’s blood, and then graciously thank their host for the free lunch by transmitting any number of potentially deadly diseases directly into your pet’s system.
Some of the most debilitating tick-borne diseases we see in California are:
Lyme disease – caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, it can be transmitted to your dog or cat by several species of teeny, tiny deer ticks. With Lyme disease, pets may show up at the vet’s office with a fever, shifting leg lameness, swollen lymph nodes, and/or a disinterest in eating. As the disease advances, they may also develop neurological problems, heart disease, and kidney failure from the infection.
Anaplasmosis – called “the new kid on the tick-borne disease block,” this disease causes fever, loss of appetite, stiff joints, lethargy, and a low platelet count in pets. Symptoms of infection may also include vomiting, diarrhea, and in extreme cases seizures. Also transmitted by the deer tick, anaplasma is found in highest concentration in the Midwest, Northeast, and—you got it—California.
Ehrlichiosis – transmitted by the brown dog tick. Symptoms of this disease, which may take months to surface and are similar to those of anaplasmosis, may include fever, loss of appetite and weight, runny eyes and nose, swollen legs, and lethargy. Cases of ehrlichiosis caused by the Ehrlichia canis bacterium are considered more common in the South, where infestations of the brown dog tick occur more often, but California shows the next highest infection rate.
These are three of the most common diseases we see in California, courtesy of ticks. Unfortunately, there are others.
It Takes a Village
Diagnosing tick-borne disease is not easy. For some infections—Lyme disease comes to mind—there’s no definitive test to confirm the diagnosis, so veterinarians have to rely on the patient’s history, symptoms, and response to treatment to know if they’re on the right track.
If a dog or cat shows symptoms like those caused by tick-borne diseases, veterinarians can use blood tests to check a pet’s exposure to certain tick-transmitted bacteria, but interpreting tick antibody titers isn’t easy, which means a veterinarian can miss incipient infections.
Sometimes, too, it helps to have another set of eyes on the patient. At Scout’s House, it isn’t uncommon for us to see patients whose problems have veterinarians stumped about their causes. And because tick-borne diseases can mask themselves as something that rehab therapy can help (some forms of erhlichiosis, for example, can mimic immune-mediated multi-joint arthritis and Lyme disease can cause neurological problems seen in neurodegenerative diseases), we’re quick to check in with our referring veterinarian partners whenever we suspect tick-borne disease in our patients.
What, Me Worry?
Think your pet’s safe? It’s true, not every dog or cat who’s bitten by a tick will get a tick-borne disease. But your couch potato in woodsy Woodside or active “outdoors-pet” in suburban Menlo Park is still at risk of contracting a tick-borne disease just by living in the Golden State. Not only are these diseases moving quickly into areas where they weren’t found just five years ago, the ticks that transmit them can survive and reproduce year-round in many areas of the country, including our own temperate Bay Area.
Keep in mind, too, that although tick diseases may be more concentrated in certain regions, pets from the Bay Area do get around. At Scout’s House, we have many patients who regularly travel to areas where infected ticks are prevalent.
Prevention vs. Cure
Tick-borne diseases can be difficult to diagnose and sometimes even more difficult to treat successfully. Doxycycline is the preferred antibiotic for these diseases and your pet should be on it for at least 28 days. Studies show that shorter courses aren’t effective at clearing the infection—longer courses are, particularly with some of the more persistent cases.
Easier than curing tick-borne disease, though, is preventing it. The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends pet owners use year-round tick preventatives everywhere in the United States. Talk to your veterinarian about which one is right for your pet.
Don’t assume your pet is safe. Some people recommend avoiding tick habitats (areas of high grass, brush, forests, beaches, and deserts—that pretty much covers everywhere, right?!) during “tick season,” but our climate ensures that every season in the Bay Area is “tick season.”
Check your pet daily for ticks, especially if you live, hike, or play in those tick habitat areas. With Lyme disease, a tick must be embedded 24-48 hours to successfully transmit the bacteria, so you have a window of opportunity to ward off potential illness if you find it before the damage is done.
Puppies Are Terrible People
By Amy Reichert, RVT
On a sunny summer day when I was 25 years old, I got the bright idea to bring home a puppy. I didn’t do any research or put much thought into the idea aside from thinking that this puppy would likely be a great way to meet boys on the San Diego beaches I spent so much time on. I flipped through the newspaper classified section and came across an ad for “Golden Labradors $350” and thought, “Hey, that sounds good to me!” <click here to read more>
So off I went to a barn in Bonita, CA to meet a litter of fluffy yellow dogs. I took one look at the biggest male in the litter, happily chewing on the sawdust in his pen and knew that he would be coming home with me. I spent all of 5 minutes with the litter before handing over my $350 and headed out on my way. What I didn’t know then was how much that snap decision would change my life.
I drove home with a 10-week-old, 15-lb. yellow dog on my lap thinking of all the wonderful things this puppy and I would do together and how much fun raising him would be. He looked up at me at a stoplight and vomited on my lap and in between the seat and center console. Lovely. But I couldn’t be mad at those big almond eyes staring up at me. “It’s ok, little man, we’ve all been there!” We pulled up to the house and it dawned on me that I didn’t tell my roommate I was bringing home a puppy. Oops. Thankfully, she was won over by the little fluff ball almost as quickly as I was. After much deliberation, I named my new minion “Rocko.”
I bragged to friends that first month about how wonderful my puppy was, and how he never caused any trouble and was housebroken within a week. But the thing that no one tells you is that puppies are sneaky little creatures that lure you into a false sense of security, and then unleash a level of havoc so severe that you question your own sanity at volunteering for this. It began simply enough, while I was at work he shredded the “Labradors for Dummies” book that I had been reading. The next incident involved a slightly cracked closet door leading to a completely demolished collection of shoes—he somehow managed to eat just one shoe of every pair in the closet out of what I can only assume was spite. In another act of puppy terrorism, he dragged a Costco pack of toilet paper (that was easily twice his size) over to his bed and shredded every last roll of it. Christmas snow came early that year in our living room. And while I knew that my retriever would probably be a fan of water, I didn’t expect him to spend half of his days digging in his water dish, creating his very own lakes in the kitchen. He didn’t outgrow this until he was nearly a year old. His piece de resistance was pulling down and eating the window molding in my bedroom, chasing it with a stash of peanut M&M’s left over from Halloween. When I called the vet, the front desk knew my dog was a Lab before I even told her. Talk about a reputation….
By now, Rocko has reached 7 months old and as any Lab owner will tell you, this is when they really kick that mischievous streak into high gear. On our very first trip to Dog Beach in San Diego, he pooped in the surf – just far enough in that I couldn’t grab it with a bag, but got plenty of dirty looks from fellow beach goers. I thought that was bad enough, but while I was doing haphazard damage control on the poop situation, my maniac of a yellow dog snatched a popsicle from a toddler’s sticky grasp and ran joyfully down the beach as the child wailed away at the injustice of it all. I chased Rocko for a good 5 minutes as he played a rousing game of keep away with me, darting left and right, his collar just out of my grasp, melting popsicle in his mouth. After profusely apologizing to the mother of the inconsolable lad, I ran to the nearest corner market and bought the kid a new popsicle. All was once again right in the world, although my plans of Rocko attracting cute boys on the beach was not going as predicted. He was getting the age range completely wrong!
In between his acts of teenage rebellion, my best buddy was the source of many smiles in my life. My constant companion never told anyone about how I cried into his soft fur after reading Marley and Me, telling him that he wasn’t allowed to leave me until he was at least 25 years old. He looked up at me, belched in my face, and jumped off the bed. When I went though break ups (with all the boys he didn’t find for me at the beach), I could always count on Rocko to snuggle up next to me on the couch and not complain about the terrible movies I made him watch. When he was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, the research I started doing is what led me to eventually becoming a rehab therapist today.
One day I woke up and looked over at my crazy puppy and saw that his face had turned from golden to white, and I couldn’t remember the last time he had raided the pantry or garbage can. (To be fair, it was within the last year—he’s still a Lab, after all.) He had woken up with me in the middle of the night to help nurse orphan kittens, and he let me practice all the things I learned in vet tech school on him without complaint. Somehow, along the way, my puppy grew up and became my best friend, earning his spot on the couch that I always said he wasn’t allowed on but he never listened. I let him win this battle, but he still isn’t allowed to have popsicles.
Are you a dog person or a cat person?
People who define themselves as “dog people” are more extroverted, more agreeable, and more conscientious than people who define themselves as “cat people,” according to a study conducted by a psychologist from the University of Texas at Austin.
Self-described cat people are more open but also more neurotic than dog people, says the study’s principal investigator Sam Gosling. Of the 4565 volunteers who participated in the study, 46% identified themselves as dog people and a mere 12% said they were cat people. Nearly 28% said they were both. Those are our people!
Patient of the Month: Maddie I.
When we met Maddie in August of 2012, we knew we were going to be meeting a very special dog. When calling her former state of Texas for previous rehab records, the staff gushed over how much they already missed her and assured us that we would love her too. At just shy of 13 years old, Maddie’s had her fair share (and maybe more!) of orthopedic and neurologic injuries that have been managed well with regular rehab therapy. From knee surgery on both knees to neck surgery to fix a slipped disc, Maddie has been a trouper through it all. We asked Maddie’s mom to share a few thoughts with us about her.
What is Maddie’s favorite treat?
Without question, her favorite treat in the world is homemade banana bread!
What is your favorite memory of Maddie?
Maddie hiking. The perfect trail dog. Whether it was a mountain in Montana or Windy Hill, she got right away how to keep pace ahead checking back frequently to check everyone’s progress. She thrived on it. Especially if we were hiking to a river or a lake. She would ask permission before plunging in. Classic Lab.
If Maddie could trade places with any other animal for a day, what would she be and why?
This sounds hifalutin’ to say, but unless you put “human” in the animal category, Maddie wouldn’t want to be another animal. In fact she doesn’t see herself as an animal at all. I would take her to the dog park and she would sit there bored and aloof looking at all the riff-raff with a look that said, “What are we doing here? This is silly. Let’s go have coffee with your friends.”
If Maddie could talk, what would she say is her favorite part about going to Scout’s House?
Without a doubt it is the first eye-to-eye contact she gets with Amy. Wonderful Amy with the treats in her pocket and who makes her feel soooo good.
What Maddie’s therapists have to say about her:
Alisa says that Maddie’s smile, always bigger on one side, makes her day whenever she sees it. Andrea says that without a doubt, Maddie’s happiness and zest for life is her favorite characteristic. Krista says that Maddie is one of those dogs that reminds you that life is what you make of it, and through every challenge she’s been given nothing ever gets her down, tackling each one with happy determination. Amy could list a million reasons why she loves Maddie, but most of all she is inspired by Maddie’s spirit to always see the good in each day, the joy of an afternoon nap, and to always give those you love lots of kisses, especially when they have a pocket full of cookies!