Why Ticks Threaten the Entire Pet-Owning Family

If a dog is diagnosed with Lyme disease, veterinarians should talk to the clients about getting tested themselves.

The household may need to see a doctor, too, when a dog is diagnosed with a tick disease.

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One Health isn’t just talk any longer. It all began a couple years ago with the people dressed in green. Some wore homemade tick costumes as they marched down Michigan Avenue in Chicago chanting “Let’s fight Lyme!” It was quite a sight.

I host a pet show on WGN Radio, and the studios are nearly like a “Today” show setup—facing Michigan Avenue and a concrete area called Pioneer Court, where the 50 or so marchers gathered. Hoping to gain radio attention, it’s not unusual for groups to stop there.

Before my pet show began, I was sitting in with another host who asked the group on live radio, “Why are you here?” They spoke about Lyme disease and why awareness is important.

As we continued chatting, they were amazed that I knew so much about tick diseases. I explained, “It’s because I attend veterinary conferences.”

At a news break, I went outside to talk with them further. They showed me images and video from their phones of relatives whose lives have been altered as a result of a bite from a tick. Some were children.

I was touched and moved to tears.

That’s when I realized that we might be able to do more to protect our dogs from tick disease than we can ourselves.

People don’t wear tick collars, snack on chewable tick protection or apply spot-on products on our backs. And, at least so far, a Lyme vaccine for people isn’t available.

I thought: If a dog is diagnosed with Lyme or any other tick disease, family members likely have been on the other end of that leash, sharing the same environment.

Also, children may be more susceptible to tick bites. Like dogs, they’re close to the ground, and they might be more likely to run into bushes or other places where ticks hang out. Very small ticks may not even be noticed, as children pay no attention, and mom and dad may not be checking carefully.

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As the Companion Animal Parasite Council notes, the prevalence of tick disease in dogs is on the rise and spreading. Veterinary parasitologists have told me that the problem is an epidemic.

It doesn’t matter what we call it. Tick disease is here, and it affects people and dogs.

In the spirit of One Health, I thought that each time a veterinarian diagnoses tick disease in a dog, a suggestion should be for family members to see a physician. After all, someone was at the other end of that leash sharing the same environment.

Similarly, if a pediatrician diagnoses tick disease, the doctor might ask if there’s a family dog. If the answer is “yes,” then a visit to a veterinarian is a good idea.

Dr. Natalie Marks in Chicago did just that. She diagnosed Lyme in a dog and gently suggested that the owner see her doctor, despite the fact that she said she felt fine.

Thankfully she listened to Dr. Marks. The dog’s owner was diagnosed with Lyme disease. And, like most illnesses, early diagnosis is helpful.

Of course, we don’t get tick disease from dogs. Ticks are the “bad guys” sharing their nasty pathogens equally with people and their pets.

I am proud to announce the launch of a One Health Initiative called Stop Lyme.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA’s CEO agreed: “More today than ever, we live in the same environment as our pets, and this can be especially true for our children. Hence, disease that might affect our pets also could affect our children. If Lyme disease is diagnosed in a child, it’s very possible that the family dog also has been exposed, and vise versa.

“By focusing on disease in animals, we can impact human health as well,” he continued. “This is the basic concept of One Health—that the health of people, animals and the environment are inextricably linked. This also is consistent with our mission statement at AVMA: ‘The mission of the association is to lead the profession by advocating for its members and advancing the science and practice of veterinary medicine to improve human and animal health.

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“It’s vital we work alongside physicians to enhance the understanding of diseases affecting human and animal patients,” he added.

Attempting to better understand tick disease in people and in pets, I’ve attended several sessions where veterinarians and physicians share a stage, including the One Health Zoobiquity initiative event.

Clearly, the approach for diagnosing and treating tick disease in dogs compared to people might be different, so there is a gap to bridge. And I realize that dogs aren’t people.

Still, ticks don’t much care about any of that. And not only is tick disease likely on the rise, but parasitologists (human and veterinary) agree that some pathogens infecting dogs and people probably haven’t been discovered yet. Yuck. And that’s kind of scary.

What appears abundantly clear to me is that public awareness and education about tick diseases will help people and dogs.

“I don’t believe tick disease is talked about enough in the media,” Marks said. “And oftentimes, when it is talked about there’s misinformation. This is a huge opportunity to inform people so they can more effectively protect all their family members—those with two legs and four.”

Merck Animal Health is supporting this campaign, but it’s not so much about selling product as it is about doing what’s right. Here’s what I mean: While attending WVC in Las Vegas, I met a veterinary technician from upstate New York, and we were chatting about my idea to launch this One Health campaign. She began to weep.

“I love being a veterinary technician,” she said. “But I may have to leave my job because I just no longer have the strength. I was diagnosed with Lyme. In some ways, I’m no longer the same person I was. And I’ve learned that I’m hardly alone.”

She hugged me and added, “You definitely will help dogs and, I bet, will do even more to help people.”

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Steve Dale writes every other month for Veterinary Practice News. He is a certified animal behavior consultant, hosts two national radio shows, writes newspaper columns, and speaks at animal welfare and veterinary conferences. His blog is at www.stevedale.tv

Originally published in the May 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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