By Dr. Sarah Wallace
Found a tick on your pet? Don’t panic! Gently remove the tick doing your best to get the entire head out. Clean the area and apply triple antibiotic ointment. Should you get your pet tested for a tick borne disease? The short, and probably unsatisfying, answer is that… it depends. Read on.
TESTING FOR A TICK BORNE DISEASE
In order for a tick to transmit disease to your pet, the ticks need to stay attached for over 24 hours, usually longer. If your pet is on an oral tick preventive medication, or you removed the tick within 24 hours of when your pet got the tick, you probably don’t need to worry about tick borne disease.
Pets will produce testable antibodies to different tick-borne diseases between three and eight weeks after exposure (this window is dependent on the infectious organism). This antibody test indicates only exposure, not infection. It is far more important to monitor your pet for lethargy, loss of appetite, or lameness.
Many veterinary hospitals carry a bedside snap test called 4DX. This quick test checks for antibodies to heartworm, Borrelia, Erhlichia, and Anaplasma. In some cases, the vet will recommend a more advanced serology test, which is used to test for rising antibody titers. Rising antibody levels can indicate an active infection that warrants treatment. Again, it is important to remember that a positive snap test indicates exposure to a disease, not infection.
WHAT A POSITIVE RESULT MEANS
Most dogs that test positive for Borrelia Burgdorferi (the bacteria that causes lyme disease) will never get sick from it. For this reason, veterinarians do not generally treat animals based on a positive test alone. If your pet tests positive for a tick borne disease, your vet may be recommend blood work and urinalysis. If these analyses show a low platelet count or protein in your pet’s urine, along with a positive test for Borrelia, your vet may prescribe treatment, even if your pet is acting normally.
PREVENTING TICK BORN DISEASES
There are some areas in the country with higher prevalences of tick borne disease. It is important to speak to a veterinarian about what is recommended in your area, and what the best tick prevention is. Keeping your pets on tick prevention year round is always a safe route. Keep in mind that there is a difference in the level of protection by over-the-counter products vs prescription strength preventatives.