For a number of reasons, tick populations in many regions will likely explode this year, according to several parasitologists. Tick populations have increased over the past few decades, but in the past 10 years, they have really exploded. It is not just more ticks, but more ticks in more regions.
What are the reasons for this increase? Many factors are playing a role such as:
- Warmer Winters
- Suburbanization, which brings together people, wildlife and ticks
- Increase in white-tailed deer
- Migratory birds that carry ticks to new areas
- Movement towards the preservation of green space and replanting of trees
- The use of fewer insecticides (Many municipalities have banned use of insecticides)
Winters have been milder than they were 20 years ago. Longer periods of harsh weather used to kill off many ticks. Without deep, hard, cold winters, there is no ‘winter kill’ which can eliminate many ticks. The temperature needed to kill a tick is about -13 degrees celsius, and it has to stay that temperature for some time. Ticks just require a temperature of 4 degrees celsius to be active. A drop in temperature overnight is not enough to affect them and snow can act as a blanket to protect them.
One of the biggest contributions to the changing epidemiology of tick populations is wildlife. Ticks ‘hitch a ride’ to new areas on migratory birds, rodents, coyotes, and other wildlife, however, it is the white-tailed deer that has really allowed them to populate.
Ticks get moved around a lot, especially by migratory birds, deer and coyotes. Once they are dropped off into an area, they are moved within that area by smaller wildlife. Furthermore, more and more people are encroaching on wildlife as they move from urban, to rural and suburban areas, putting themselves and their pet’s in harm’s (the tick’s) way.
The move to decrease mass spraying of insecticides and to preserve open space are great steps to help the environment, but have a downside, which is more ticks.
Ticks are the major cause of vector-borne diseases, and have been implicated in the transmission of nearly a dozens human and animal infectious disease, including lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Dogs are often the first indicatory of a tick-borne disease in an area, because they are out in the habitat. If they are not on anti-tick products, then they will pick up ticks and illnesses will be seen.
Many pet owners may not take the threat seriously. It is not as simple as throwing a spot-on tick product at the dog and then ‘you’re done’. Determining the diseases present in your area with your veterinary healthcare team, annual testing for these diseases, and discussing what products are best to prevent tick adherence are important.
Vigilance is key in managing the increased populations of ticks expected this year and preventing transmission of harmful diseases they can transmit. Our veterinary healthcare team can help you develop a parasite prevention plan tailored to your pet’s age, lifestyle and breed.