Ah, the joys of summer! Early sunrises and long evenings give ample time for walks with friends – both two-legged and four-legged – in the cool shade of the woods and greenways. Ticks crawling up your socks and in your dog’s ear… wait, that’s not a joy of summer! Unfortunately, ticks and fleas all love the long, warm and humid days of summer in North Carolina. With these parasites come hidden dangers.
Fleas are perhaps the most common of these parasites and the pests that cats or dogs are most likely to bring into the home. Despite causing uncomfortable itching, fleas are also a carrier for a bacterium called Bartonella. Bartonella infection was once known as Cat Scratch Fever and was thought to be directly transmitted from cats to people. We now know that Bartonella can infect dogs, cats, and people and is transmitted through fleas, lice, sand fleas, and occasionally mosquitoes.
Ticks are also a common problem, as they love to inhabit the same yards, trails and parks where we like to roam with our pets. There are four prevalent types of ticks in North Carolina including the American Dog Tick, the Brown Dog Tick, the Lone Star Tick, and the Black-Legged Tick. Ticks have a lengthy life span of 2 years and must attach themselves to their host (and feed) in order to progress from larva to nymph to adult. Ticks can transmit disease after just a short time of feeding on a host. Although cats are much less likely to become a victim of tick attachment due to their constant grooming techniques, it is important to check your cat and dog friends often for any unwanted intruders.
The American Dog Tick is commonly found in the Piedmont regions of North Carolina and is the primary source for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. This disease is actually most prevalent in dogs and people in the Southeast between Oklahoma and North Carolina, not necessarily in the Rocky Mountain region.
The Brown Dog Tick is frequently found on dogs. While they rarely try to feed on people, these ticks can reproduce very quickly and invade environments with multiple dogs in confined spaces, such as kennel facilities and dog houses.
The Lone Star Tick and the Black-Legged Tick are most often found in the northern and eastern parts of North Carolina. They are responsible for carrying most of the tick-borne diseases, such as Ehrlichia (a bacteria-like organism), Babesia, Anaplasma, and Lyme disease. Lyme disease was first identified in a town named Old Lyme in the 1970s as a disease that caused arthritis. Lyme disease comes from a bacterium called Borrelia and is most prevalent in the northeastern United States. However, all of these diseases are becoming more common in our area.
Anytime people or pets are walking in the woods, weeds or underbrush, they are likely to encounter ticks and fleas. Prevention is the real key to fighting parasite-transmitted diseases. It is important to wear insect repellant and check closely for ticks when arriving home. Check your pet carefully, paying special attention to the folds in their ears and between their toes. There are many medications; topical and oral, as well as, special collars that can also help repel and kill ticks and fleas. See your veterinarian for the recommendation that is best for your pet.
Originally published July 2015 in the Lake Norman Citizen