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- The Way We Were, for the week ending February 16, 2018
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There is nothing good about ticks. Here in Connecticut we live in the birthplace of Lyme disease. Just about everyone I know, and their dogs, have had Lyme disease, at least once, if not multiple times. I wish I had bought stock in Pfizer way back when it invented Doxycycline, the antibiotic of choice to wipe out Lyme (Borrelia burgdorferei), Ehrlichia species canis and wingii, and Anaplasma species phagocytophilum and platys.
I know this all looks like a Latin textbook, but in the last two decades since moving to Newtown with my dogs, Lyme, Ehrlichia, and now anaplasmosis has hunted us down to the point of exhaustion. And this year, ticks are super thick everywhere, thanks to a bumper crop of acorns two years ago that helped fuel the white-footed mouse population that the ticks gorge on for food during their breeding season. And that’s just Lyme disease and deer ticks.
Before there were products such as Frontline and K-9 Advantix, all we had in the fight against fleas and ticks were shampoos and collars. Although in the 1980s I don’t recall ever having a tick problem with my dogs. But the fleas were epidemic, especially when I lived on a sandy river bank in a shady spot. Shampoos, foggers, and sprays with natural pyrethrins were so ubiquitous in my home, they were part of my regular grooming supplies. Then, when I first moved to Newtown I tried flea and tick collars, but with multiple dogs, and usually a puppy in the mix, I found that said puppy would usually chew off and eat the flea collar. This prompted lots of salt down the gullet to induce vomiting. Eventually, I embraced spot-on treatments, but using it on my dogs still gave me the willies, since they are pesticides after all that we are introducing into out pet’s bloodstreams. When I was an active breeder, I refused to use them on any bitch I was planning on breeding.
Better Living Through Chemistry
But then when one of my bitches collapsed one day walking down the driveway, I changed my tune. She was diagnosed with Ehrlichia, which nearly killed her. I decided to start using Frontline on all my dogs, at least during the spring, summer, and fall months when ticks were most active. Then another one of my dogs got Lyme, and then another. So I switched from Frontline to K-9 Advantix since its marketing materials promised me the product would REPEL and kill ticks, fleas, biting flies, mosquitos, etc. But I still took them off the stuff in the winter, when 14 inches of snow and zero temperatures seemed to keep ticks at bay.
But then climate change came along and just this last winter it hit 74 degrees in February! But then it got cold again, and spring was a wet, damp, cold experience. Then just as March was ending, my husband found a big bloated tick on the floor in the dog room. Damn, those ticks are out earlier and earlier each year. Veterinarians do recommend that pets stay on preventives year-round. I was just trying to keep the pesticides out of them for a few months of the year, but it’s really no use. A few weeks after that monster tick was found, our older dog Linx tested positive for anaplasmosis after he developed an unexplained front leg limp, and back leg tremors. He was being attacked by cork-screw organisms, introduced by an infected tick, in his bone marrow. Ouch! Fortunately, he seems to have responded well and immediately to the Doxycycline to kill off those critters.
On The Paved Path
I’m nostalgic for when I used to walk my dogs in Huntington State Park and on the grassy knolls at Holcombe Hill. But repeated bouts of Lyme, Ehrlichia, and now anaplasmosis, have forced me to walk where there is only concrete sidewalks or asphalt roads in my neighborhood. Even at Fairfield Hills where I try to walk the dogs most mornings on a paved path, ticks are waiting. When I take a shortcut across the grass, I find ticks crawling up their legs before we head back to the car.
It’s so bad this year, when I return from a walk, I put the dogs up on the grooming table, and use my dryer blower to look through their thick coats to see if any ticks are still making their way up their legs. It has really taken the fun, and peaceful relaxation, out of walking the dogs. All I do is look for black spots on white furry legs, avoiding grass longer than two inches where hitchhiking ticks are hanging out like day laborers. Even the new Lyme disease vaccine, which claims to have a 92 percent effectiveness versus the old vaccine at a measly 80 percent effectiveness, can’t help against all the other creepy crawly diseases ticks carry.
And call me crazy, but I think the ticks are becoming resistant to the topical chemicals. These ticks seem to be flipping me their middle leg in defiance. Used to be, I could go more than a month, five, six weeks even between treatments on the dogs. Now, ticks are climbing up their legs at three weeks, and four days away from the next application. My new motto: Be vigilant against vectors! Keep up to date on monthly treatments, always check your dogs after any outdoor time, get the new Lyme vaccine, and if your dog exhibits any out of the ordinary symptoms, like limping, fever, lethargy, or tremors, get them tested immediately and on the road to recovery. Most dogs, when caught early and have a full treatment of antibiotics have an excellent prognosis. We can’t let the ticks win.