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Tick season has arrived

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This year's warm winter has brought on an early tick season.

In a typical year in East Otter Tail County, ticks tend to be at their worst in April and May, and then again in September and October.

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But local pet professionals are warning that this year's tick season has already begun - and pet owners should act now to protect their animals from tick-borne diseases like Lyme and anaplasmosis.

"We have seen a lot of tick-related activity," reported Kaitlin Dunrud, a veterinary technician at All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Perham. "With the mild winter we had, it didn't kill off nearly as much as it should have. So they're going to come out hard this season."

Ticks can be active any time the temperature is above 40 degrees and the grass is exposed, explained Dr. Bill Rose of Lakeland Veterinary Clinic. That means it could be 20 degrees outside, "but behind a rock, in the sunshine, where it's 55-60 degrees, ticks can live."

Dogs love to lie in those sunny spots, he added, where they can get "just covered in deer ticks," even as early as February and March.

"This year, with no snow, and as warm as it was... we surely could have had ticks all year long," said Rose.

Both Rose and Dunrud reported an increase in tick activity at their local clinics in recent weeks.

"We've already seen ticks and fleas on patients as they're walking through the door," said Dunrud.

That leads to an increase in tick-borne diseases. In the last week alone, Rose has seen four clinical cases of Lyme - and that doesn't include all the less serious, non-clinical cases. Dunrud said of all animals tested at All Creatures, three-quarters have been positive for either Lyme or anaplasmosis.

"We are seeing almost the same number of positives for anaplasmosis as for Lyme," said Rose.

Both are infectious diseases caused by bacteria spread through tick bites. Humans are also susceptible, though people can't 'catch' either disease from their pets.

Symptoms of both diseases are similar in dogs, and commonly include lack of appetite, stiffness and lameness due to joint pain, fever and depression. Left untreated, dogs may develop kidney problems and other more serious complications.

Both Rose and Dunrud recommend that pets be tested for the diseases. Then, either a treatment plan or prevention plan can be put into action.

"We ask that pet owners come in and get the heartworm tick test," said Dunrud. "It tests for three different types of tick diseases, and for heartworm."

There is an annual vaccine to protect against Lyme, she added, while prevention products like Frontline and Certifect help provide tick control.

"The biggest thing, when it comes to tick prevention, is to start early and keep going late," said Rose. "All it takes is one tick bite to be infected, so don't wait until you see the ticks to start prevention measures."

Often, he added, the ticks are small enough that they won't be seen at all. Deer ticks, in the larva and nymph stages of their life cycles, are tiny, like a speck of dirt - nearly impossible to see.

"If you see a speck on yourself and it's itchy and red around it, treat it as though it were a deer tick, because it could be," said Rose. "You don't want to leave them on long... You are much less likely to get a disease if you get them off within 36 hours. So check yourself and your dog and remove ticks immediately."

If an animal tests positive for a tick-borne disease, treatment options are available. Pet owners should discuss those options with their veterinarian, as they vary depending on type and severity of the disease.

One thing that's important to note, said Rose, is that 'in town' animals are at risk of contracting Lyme or anasplasmosis just as much as their 'country' counterparts. Perhaps even more so, as they are generally less exposed to ticks and therefore have a lesser chance of building up any sort of immunity.

Ticks are carried everywhere by birds, Rose explained, "so just because you live in town doesn't mean you're safe."

All four of the clinical cases of Lyme he's seen in the last week were "city dogs," he said. "They were sick - really sick."

Over the years, the "four or five dogs" he's seen die from Lyme disease have all been city dogs.

"Don't have a false sense of security if you live in town - even if your dog only goes out in the backyard," Rose said.

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