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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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More Ticks Mean Year-Round Preventive Measures are a Must

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, since ticks are major carriers of diseases that affect humans, 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:

  • Provide all your pets with lifetime parasite control. "We always say to treat every pet every month all year long," Dr. Little says. Dogs and cats don't spread tick-borne diseases directly to their owners, but they can acquire diseases from ticks as well as bring ticks into the home or yard. And just because your dog or cat stays mainly indoors or lives in a certain geographic region doesn't mean he's not at risk. 

  • Ask your veterinarian which ticks and tick-borne diseases are common in your area and which product is best for protecting your animals. The information may have changed since you last learned about ticks.

  • Apply tick-prevention products on a regular schedule. It's no longer effective to try to time parasite control to start in spring and stop after the second killing frost. 

  • Check your dog or cat for ticks anytime he has been outdoors. Keep a tick-removal device on hand and know how to use it.

  • Make your yard less welcoming to ticks by removing leaf litter, mowing the lawn frequently, keeping landscaping free of tall grass and brush, and fencing your yard to prevent incursions by deer and other animals that carry ticks. A three-foot swathe of wood chips or gravel between your lawn and wooded areas won't keep ticks away, but it does serve as a visual reminder that you are entering the tick zone.

  • Use insect repellent on yourself and wear protective clothing.

  • After a hike or other outdoor excursion to tick-friendly wooded areas with tall grass, give yourself a cursory examination for the little bloodsuckers, so you don't drive them home to your pets. - by Kim Campbell Thornton

Born shy: how to help fearful cats
Q: When my son and his wife came to visit recently, our cat took one look when they walked in the door, ran upstairs and disappeared under our bed. She wouldn't come out all day, and she's not eating much. I'm worried that the stress of having guests in the house, combined with her lack of appetite, will trigger a bout of pancreatitis, which she's had before. Is there anything I can do to help her be more comfortable when we have visitors? -- via Facebook
A: It's normal for cats to react this way to unfamiliar people and situations. The flight response is a survival behavior that protects them from potentially dangerous situations or individuals.
The bad news is that there's no way to train or socialize your cat to be friendly toward strangers. Cats who react fearfully to strangers carry the trait in their genes. What's interesting is that it's the father who has the most influence over kitten personalities, even though they spend most of their time with their mother.
If your cat had met and been handled by many different people before she was 6 weeks old, the socialization could have helped her to be less fearful of strangers or new or unusual objects, but it won't help now. The best thing you can do for your cat is to set up a safe place where she can feel secure. This can be your bedroom, an office or some other comfortable area where no one will disturb her. Stock it with food, water, a litter box (well away from the food and water) and maybe a favorite toy.
Your cat may never be a social butterfly, but it's possible that if the same people visit frequently, she will one day be confident enough to let them catch a glimpse of her. -- by Kim Campbell Thornton
Big cat research has gone to a dog

  • Jaguar biologists in Costa Rica have a canine research assistant: a German shorthaired pointer named Google. Nicknamed "the ultimate search engine," his job is to find jaguar scat -- aka feces. The scat provides the biologists with DNA that allows them to identify individual animals and learn more about their movements, diet and genetic diversity. Like his namesake, Google increases researchers' finds by severalfold, says Dr. Howard Quigley, executive director of jaguar programs for Panthera, a wild cat conservation program. What does Google get out of it? Play time with his favorite red ball.

  • A new USDA rule set down last month limits the sale of animals online by redefining the term "retail pet store" to mean a place of business or residence that a buyer must physically enter to observe the animals for sale prior to purchase. Internet-based breeders and other businesses that sell animals sight unseen must now be licensed and inspected by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Breeders with four or fewer breeding females are exempt from licensing and inspection requirements, as are breeders of working dogs and animal rescue groups, pounds, shelters and humane societies.

  • Most dogs that take heartworm preventive are protected against the deadly parasites, but evidence presented by parasitology experts Dr. Ray M. Kaplan and Dr. Byron L. Blagburn at the American Veterinary Medical Association conference in July indicated that some heartworms in small numbers of dogs in the Mississippi Delta areas of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and western Tennessee are resistant to preventive medication. In areas such as the southern United States, where heartworms are endemic, pet owners should not only give their animals heartworm preventive, but also take steps to reduce their exposure to mosquitoes, including walking dogs at times when mosquitoes are less active and screening dog runs or other outdoor areas.

Date Published: 10/14/2013 11:13:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 10/14/2013


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Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of Dogs for Dummies, Cats for Dummies and Birds for Dummies. She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her at

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