To most pet owners, the return of spring is a joyous occasion. The opportunity to spend quality time with your pet outdoors can be an exhilarating experience. Just be sure to watch out for some sneaky critters waiting to feast on your pet’s blood!

Everyone is well aware of the irritation that fleas can cause our pets, as well as pesky mosquitoes spreading heartworm disease. But another problem parasite that shows up in the spring and stays until about October is the tick – and they can cause serious problems, some of them deadly.

There are over 850 known species of ticks in the world and these relatives of spiders can be found as parasites on mammals, birds, and even reptiles. Here in the United States, dog and cat owners have less than a dozen species to deal with, but all of these ticks can harbor a variety of serious diseases, such as Erhlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, tularemia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Lyme Disease.

Adult ticks will climb to the top of a blade of grass or the edge of a leaf lying on the ground and wait for their potential host. This “questing” behavior puts them in the perfect position to sense movement, heat, and even carbon dioxide. Reacting to these stimuli, the tick will climb onto the new host.

Once on the pet, the tick will begin feeding. The tick’s mouth parts are designed to make removal difficult. Their barbed feeding tube has numerous backward facing projections and a substance produced in the tick’s salivary glands actually glues the tick in place. Some ticks can feed on 200 to 600 times their body weight in blood and may take several days to finish eating. It is during this blood meal that ticks can spread a number of diseases to their host.

Dr. Michael Dryden of the Kansas State University Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology mentions that pet owners might miss a few ticks for a day or two, thereby giving the opportunistic disease-causing bacteria a chance to infect the pet. Diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) and Lyme Disease are still prevalent in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control have reported prevalence rates of the bacteria causing RMSF ranging from 2-10% in ticks found in the Eastern United States. RMSF affects both dogs and people and is often characterized by fevers, swollen lymph nodes, and occasionally pneumonia. In dogs, RMSF can cause potentially fatal heart arrhythmias.

A recent study shows increasing numbers of dogs with positive Lyme Disease tests in the United States. Lyme Disease has been diagnosed in all 48 contiguous states and more than 40% of the 1,400 veterinary clinics surveyed have reported cases of the disease in recent years. Dogs with Lyme Disease will often present with a sudden onset on lameness that appears to come and go. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, high fever, and severe lethargy.

It is possible though, to enjoy the outdoors and protect your pet from ticks at the same time. Flea products routinely purchased through veterinarians are also useful in the war on ticks. Popular products veterinarians recommend are Vectra 3D, Frontline Plus, and K-9 Advantix. These products are particularly effective in preventing tick infestations. These safe and easy to use monthly topicals, not only control fleas, but kills all ticks, potentially stopping the spread of tick borne diseases. Contact your veterinarian to see which product will work best for your pets.

Most pet owners want to know when the best times for starting and stopping flea and tick control. According to Dryden, on the Companion Animal Parasite Council website, the changing climactic conditions of most of the United States have made pinpointing a tick “season” difficult. Some species of ticks have been known to survive more than 12 months without a blood meal. For the pet’s safety, Dryden recommends year round use of these treatments. In Gardner, we recommend starting the products in the spring and continuing until the start of winter. This may change if you see problems into the winter months. Discuss with your veterinarian to get your pet on the appropriate product and dosing regimen.

Getting out and enjoying the great outdoors by camping and hiking can be a great bonding experience for you and your dog. The fresh air, added exercise and the thrill of exploring the unknown will add to your relationship with your pet. Following a few simple protective steps will help to make sure that your dog doesn’t come home with some unwelcome visitors, or a potentially devastating disease.

For more information about protecting your dog from ticks, visit As always, seek your veterinarian’s advice for optimal tick control. Watch an interesting video on ticks at