Tick season off and biting: Pests can be fatal to dogs, transmitting diseases

KENNEWICK -- A stroll near a river or walk in the woods this spring could leave an unwanted pest or two clinging to you or a pet.

Tick season, an unwelcome time for anyone who spends time in the outdoors, has arrived again with warmer temperatures and plants trading winter's brown for the green of spring.

And while ticks are definitely pests, they also can pose potential peril for people and pets, according to health officials and veterinarians.

Ticks can spread diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme Disease tick-borne relapsing fever or tick paralysis, which can be fatal to dogs.

Tick-borne diseases are less prevalent in Washington than other regions of the country, with about 300 confirmed between 1989 and 2000, according to the Washington Department of Health.

The state averages about two cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever annually and about 15 cases of Lyme Disease, the department said.

Find a woody, brushy area or long grasses, particularly near water, and it's likely prime tick habitat.

"They're around here now until fall," said JoDee Peyton, an environmental health specialist with Benton-Franklin Health District. "You won't see them too much during the hotter weather, but they are definitely around now."

Ticks may be an unavoidable part of the natural landscape, but experts say some precautions taken before venturing outdoors can prevent a tick from sinking its mouth into your skin.

Health officials say you should wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts in light colors and keep shirts tucked in and buttoned, if possible, to keep ticks off your skin and make them more visible if they do crawl onto you.

Repellents, particularly those containing DEET or pemethrin, are highly effective, Peyton said, although care should be used when applying them to children.

Dog owners also should be vigilant for ticks when taking their pet out for walks through tall grass or in the woods. Dr. Kathy Batdorf of Vista Veterinary Hospital in Kennewick recommends applying tick repellent once a month.

Pet owners also should check a dog over thoroughly, especially long-haired dogs.

"We're seeing a few ticks on dogs already, which is kind of a surprise to me because it's been so cool this spring," Batdorf said.

Ticks can start to spread any disease they may be carrying after being attached to a host over 24 hours, Peyton said, so it's imperative to check yourself or your pet after an outdoor excursion.

Tick paralysis can be fatal in dogs, but it can easily be stopped. It typically causes paralysis first in the back legs and then moves forward, Batdorf said.

She treated a client's dog last year that had tick paralysis. The pet's condition deteriorated until Batdorf found the tick. The dog quickly recovered.

"All you have to do is remove the tick, and it goes away," she said. "I talked to a vet in Sunnyside who sees a few every year. Once the tick gets pulled, the dogs do recover, usually in a few hours."

To remove a tick, use a tweezer to grip its head from the side, staying as close to the skin as possible. Pull the tick straight out in a slow, steady motion.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises avoiding the use of petroleum jelly or sticking the head of a hot match on a tick, as it may stimulate a tick to release additional saliva or regurgitate contents of its gut.

Not all ticks transmit diseases. Health officials, however, say that if bitten, the symptoms -- which can include headaches, muscle pain, fatigue and an unexplained rash -- generally begin within two days to two weeks after a bite. If you develop those symptoms or were in a tick-prone area, see a physician.

* Kevin McCullen: 509-582-1535; kmccullen@tricityherald.com