Biting Cold doesn’t Deter Biting Ticks

It’s Cold Outside, but the Ticks are Still Active!

In January 2013, while living in snowy upstate New York and working as an ER veterinarian, I received a panicked phone call from a friend who had found a ‘tumor’ on her dog’s ear. On examination, the tumor turned out to be an engorged deer tick that was happily sucking blood from her dog Maggie. After its removal and disposal, I learned that Maggie was no longer on her monthly tick preventative due to the colder winter temperatures. Maggie was quickly put back on her preventative, and luckily the tick was removed before any serious damage was done.

Pets need Tick Prevention 12 months out of the Year!

Contrary to widespread belief, the many species of North American ticks can remain active all winter as long as the temperature is above freezing, and they DO NOT DIE with the first frost. While the Shenandoah Valley has its share of sub-30 degree days, the average high winter temperatures in Lexington from December through March are 46-59’F1. In particular, the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) is most active between the months of October and February. The deer tick is the transmitter of Lyme Disease. Approximately 50% of deer ticks are infected with the bacteria (Borrellia burgdorferi) that causes Lyme Disease. Frustratingly, while large adult ticks of all species tend to be easily noticeable when feeding on your pet, the immature ticks (nymphs) are very small. These nymphs are the size of a pinhead and are challenging to find with the naked eye. Your pet could become infected with lyme disease without you even noticing a bite. Lastly, after feeding on your dog, these ticks can drop off into your house and later crawl onto you and other family members.

The Companion Animal Parasite Council ( has a great interactive map that allows you to see the prevalence of dogs testing positive for Lyme Disease across the United States. In 2017, 1 in 12 dogs have tested positive for Lyme Disease in Rockbridge County, Virginia. Moreover, fitting with the seasonality of increased deer tick activity in the colder months and the trend of owners not applying tick preventatives in the winter, there is a visible increase in the number of dogs that test positive for Lyme Disease in the months of October through February as compared to the warmer months of the year!

Ticks live in the ‘burbs!

Ticks do not just live in the woods or out in the county. Even if you live in town or your dog only goes outside to use the bathroom, your dog can still be exposed to ticks. When I walk my dogs daily through my Lexington neighborhood, I see plenty of deer easily bounding in and out of 6 foot high fenced-in yards in hopes of finding something tasty to eat. If a deer can make it into your backyard, so can a tick!

Lyme Disease in Dogs

Dogs with acute Lyme disease may show signs of fever, shifting leg lameness, swollen joints, enlarged lymph nodes, lethargy, depression, and anorexia. Luckily, most of these dogs respond within 24-48 hours to an appropriate course of antibiotics. Unfortunately, when chronically infected, dogs can develop permanent damage to their joints that will not improve with antibiotics. Lastly, the scariest form of lyme disease is lyme nephritis, which means that the bacteria has caused serious kidney damage. Typically once the disease has reached the kidneys, only 50% of dogs will survive the kidney failure. Those dogs that are lucky to survive  will live the rest of their live with compromised kidney function.

Lyme Disease in Dogs is 100% Preventable!

A deer tick will need to feed continuously for >36 hours on a dog in order to transmit lyme disease. Luckily, all of the tick preventatives that we carry at Lexington Animal Hospital are guaranteed to kill ticks within 8 hours after feeding. In order for the preventatives to be effective, they need to be applied both properly and consistently. Because we know owners have different preferences, we carry tick preventatives ranging from monthly topicals, collars that can be worn consistently for 8 months, as well as monthly oral preventatives. Please ask us about which product might be best for you and your pet, and how to make sure that the product you use is applied appropriately to maximize its effectiveness.

For the month of February, to help encourage all our owners and their pets to remain on tick prevention, we are offering 10% off of all tick preventatives! 

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