Vickroy: An uptick in the number of freaky freeloaders
DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5982 July 25, 2012 7:06PM
Veterinarian technicians pulled a tick the size of a June bug out of the ear of Ted (above) last week. | SUPPLIED PHOTO
For more information on ticks and tick-borne
illnesses, visit cdc.gov/ticks/
For more information on Lyme disease, visit
Updated: August 27, 2012 10:28AM
Warning: If you’re at all like me, what you are about to read will creep you out. Bear with me, though, because this stuff is important.
I was brushing my dog, Ted, one day last week when I came face to face with a giant freak of nature.
At first, I thought it had to be a tumor. But upon closer examination, I realized the “tumor” had legs.
After I regained consciousness, I called the vet.
Later that day, the doctor’s technicians pulled a tick the size of a June bug out of Ted’s ear. I know: Ewwww — and then some, right?
Veterinarian Jeffrey Valenti, who has been treating Ted in his Tinley Park office since Ted was a pup, said he’s seen more cases of pets carrying ticks this year. He attributed the increase to our mild winter and dry summer. Ticks, he said, got an early jump on feeding cycles.
I attributed Ted’s tick to our walking him every evening near a wetlands behind our house. Surely, such a hideous creature had to come from some dark, overgrown, wild place.
But Christine Petrovits, a veterinarian with Flossmoor Animal Clinic, said ticks can be found almost anywhere, including nicely manicured suburban back yards.
The small, spidery-looking critters travel on other animals, especially deer, but also reptiles, amphibians and, yes, humans, she said. They’ve been known to hang out in bushes, tall grasses, even wood piles where mice hide. All places dogs like to stick their noses.
“We’re definitely seeing a lot more of them this year,” Petrovits said. This area’s dense wildlife population contributes to the problem, she said.
Despite efforts to increase public awareness to the threat of tick-borne dangers, Petrovits said, most pet owners are shocked when a tick is pulled off their pet.
Since I posted the freakish event to my Facebook page, tick stories have been coming out of the woodwork. I’ve learned of a Scottish terrier whose roving ways make him a regular host for ticks, despite the monthly preventative treatments his owners apply. He now has Lyme disease.
I was also told about a local woman whose doctor ordered a biopsy on a dark mass in the middle of her back. Before she could have the test done, a friend took a close look at the spot and said, “I don’t want to scare you, but this mass has legs.”
See why this is important?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are four stages to a tick’s life. It feeds at each stage and prefers a new host at each feeding.
In explaining how ticks feed, the CDC website states: “The tick then inserts its feeding tube. Many species also secrete a cement-like substance that keeps them firmly attached during the meal. The feeding tube can have barbs which help keep the tick in place.”
Doesn’t get much creepier than that, does it?
In addition to scaring the bejeezus out of people, Petrovits said the bloodsucking parasites can transmit a number of diseases to their unsuspecting hosts. Foremost among them is Lyme disease, a very serious illness that causes lethargy, joint pain and loss of appetite. It is not curable but can be managed with medication. If undiagnosed, Lyme disease can lead to neurological damage.
Last week, Pat Smith, president of the Lyme Disease Association, addressed a House subcommittee on the difficulties of diagnosing and treating the disease. The CDC indicated in 2009 that Lyme disease surpassed HIV in incidence. In 2000, there were 35 cases per 100,000 people in Illinois. In 2010, that number jumped to 135 per 100,000.
Lyme disease is just one of many illnesses ticks can carry.
All the more reason to prevent the tiny critters from attaching themselves in the first place. The best way to do that, Petrovits said, is with a topical anti-tick treatment. Frontline is a popular brand.
Petrovits said the medication takes about 24 hours to kill a tick that has attached itself. That is about the same amount of time it takes a tick to transmit a disease such as Lyme. So it’s important for pet owners and forest preserve hikers to check their animals and themselves regularly when returning from an outing.
A newer, faster-working medication called Certifect, also made by Frontline, is available for those dogs that are allowed to roam through forested or prairie areas.
So be vigilant, be diligent, and if you find a critter feasting on your pet, first, grab the tweezers and have a pull. Then you can pass out.