Warning: Tick exposure is the tip of the iceberg

Tick encounters are increasingly hard to avoid. After all, these eight-legged blood suckers are spreading diseases throughout the United States. To protect our pets and ourselves, we need to stay alert to the risks right under our noses. That means regularly screening pets—including asymptomatic or seemingly healthy ones—to identify exposure to infected ticks.

Screening healthy pets clarifies risks for all

Regardless of how healthy a dog appears, it’s important to use a broad screen during a pet’s annual visit. Limiting your screening to symptomatic pets, those known to have had a tick on them, or pets that frequent grassy areas (e.g., hunting dogs), is not enough. Adam Birkenheuer, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, explains why in this hour-long webinar. Screening results can influence veterinary recommendations about vaccination, tick prevention, diagnostic testing, and treatment. And if that’s not enough, Dr. Birkenheuer reminds us, “Dogs are extremely good sentinels for exposure to tick-borne diseases in humans.”

A broad screening test provides highly specific information about what ticks and diseases are lurking in any given area—everyone immediately thinks of Lyme, but the tick that carries Lyme disease can also carry other disease, so we need to look for additional common pathogens. The SNAP® 4Dx® Plus Test identifies exposure to five tick-borne pathogens: Borrelia burgdorferi, Ehrlichia canis, Ehrlichia ewingii, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, and Anaplasma platys, and infection with Dirofilaria immitis (heartworm), spread by mosquitoes.

Negative results are the goal. They tell us that preventive measures are working, which should be great news for pet parents.

When we see a blue dot, the result is positive, confirming that the patient has been exposed to an infected vector, be it tick or mosquito, carrying a specific pathogen. Blue dots also signal the need for additional tests to determine if a patient’s infection is active, producing disease,  or if there are other issues related to the exposure that need to be addressed, and if treatment is warranted.

And beyond what blue dots mean for our patients, they give us valuable information to prompt a conversation with the client. You might ask if they are spending time outdoors with their dogs, for example, and can mention that they are at risk for coming into contact with the same exposed ticks and should take appropriate steps to protect themselves and consult with their physician if they have been bitten by a tick or are feeling unwell.

Explaining the need for additional tests to clients can be challenging, especially when patients appear healthy. Dr. Birkenheuer offers practical advice about what to say to clients, when to collect blood for tests, and how and when to screen and deliver test results. Watch the webinar to find out how he helps pet owners understand and agree to his recommendations.

Ticks don’t take time off, neither should parasite control products

Everyone talks about tick season, but ticks are active all year long and they’re everywhere. Just look at Companion Animal Parasite Council’s (CAPC’s) interactive prevalence maps. Ticks are widespread, and travel by attaching themselves to mice, deer, birds, and rodents of all kinds. The good news is that many parasite control products repel ticks, and make it harder for them to attach, feed, and infect your patients. Reinforce the importance of year-round parasite control during every patient visit and remind clients to stock up when they check out.

Good preventive control also includes thorough tick checks after time outdoors. This simple measure can also protect the people in a pet owner’s home. Show your clients how to check their dog for ticks by sharing this short video on your Facebook page.

Identifying exposure is a leading line of defense

There’s so much we can do to prevent ticks from causing pets and humans harm. Remember that screening all pets annually for exposure to infected ticks is a leading line of defense.

Melissa Beall, DVM, PhD

posted by Melissa Beall, DVM, PhD

Dr. Beall received her veterinary degree from the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She then worked in small animal practice and in laboratory animal medicine before entering a graduate program in Comparative Medicine at Cornell University. Over the last 14 years at IDEXX she has contributed to the development and launch of the vector-borne disease, pancreatic lipase and NT-proBNP diagnostic products. As a Medical Affairs veterinarian, she currently supports Rapid Assay products and Cardiopet proBNP at the Reference Laboratory.

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