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JoAnna Lou
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Tick Population Explosion
Pesky bugs are now a year round problem
Ticks drive me crazy, especially since I spend so much time hiking in wooded areas.  And these pesky creatures are persistent even outside of prime conditions.  I try to avoid using chemical-laden tick preventatives year round, figuring the pups are safe in the winter, but this year one of my friends spotted a tick on her dog in January!
 
Unfortunately this problem is only getting worse because tick populations have exploded in the past ten years--meaning more ticks and more affected areas (did you know that ticks can even be found in Antarctica?!).  Scientists attribute this increase to mild winters, suburbanization (bringing people and wildlife in closer proximity), an increase in white-tailed deer, migratory birds that carry ticks to new areas, a movement towards preserving open space and trees, and the use of fewer insecticides.  
 
These factors have also made my habit of skipping winter tick preventatives a bit misguided.  Dr. Michael Dryden, a veterinary parasitology professor at Kansas State University, says that it has to be at least ten degrees Fahrenheit for some time to kill a tick.  If the temperature drops overnight then warms back up, that doesn't do the trick.  Ticks can also survive under a blanket of snow, which actually provides shelter (go figure!).  Additionally there are some species, like the Black-Legged Tick, found on the East Coast of the United States, that actually thrives in the winter months from October to February.  
 
In addition to being vigilant year round, a recent study out of Vienna's Institute of Parasitology discovered a significant different in the effectiveness of acaricide anti-tick treatments (a category that includes Frontline and K9 Advantix) in practice versus in the laboratory.  They suspect this is due to people not applying the product consistently or according to the directions.
 
Veterinarians often see new tick species and diseases before medical doctors, since dogs spend so much time outdoors, making our pups important to both human and canine health initiatives.
 
After reading these studies, I'll certainly be checking for ticks and applying Frontline Plus no matter how cold it is outside!
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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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