Nasty little buggers! Here in the “north woods” it seems like ticks are a constant irritant and worry during the summer months. They crawl on us and the dogs and infest the horses, with the deer ticks carrying a couple of diseases for all. We’ll be out camping with the horses for the weekend and all it will take is for one person to say “I found a tick on me” and the rest of us immediately start itching and having the feeling of one crawling around on us. As soon as we find one, it is studied to see if it’s a deer tick (also known as a black-legged tick) or a common wood tick (also called a dog tick). If it’s a wood tick, the comment is “it’s a good one!” As if any of them are good in my eyes!
The two diseases that concern us the most in our area are Lyme Disease (also colloquially known as Lyme’s Disease) and Ehrlichiosis, which is now called Anaplasmosis, both of which are transmitted by the deer tick. All stages of the deer tick have the ability to transmit disease, but ticks don't inherently carry the bacteria which causes Lyme's. In fact, they have to attach to and feed from infected vermin (most often mice) to themselves become infected with the bacteria.
It takes at least 24 hours of being attached for an infected deer tick to transmit the bacteria, but unfortunately the nymph stage of the deer tick is so tiny that many times you don’t even realize, or see, that you have a tick on you. Only the females feed – and therefore transmit diseases; male ticks may also attach, but they don’t feed. Contrary to some beliefs, ticks do not drop from trees and they cannot jump. They climb on grasses and shrubs and quickly transfer onto whatever passes by and rubs on the stalks to which the ticks are clinging.
What are Lyme Disease Symptoms?
Lyme disease is a bacterial disease with the following symptoms: rash, headaches, fever, and muscle or joint pain that seems to move from joint to joint. Many times, but not always, there is a “bull’s eye” rash that develops on the skin around where the tick was attached. A course of oral antibiotics, taken in the early stage, can take care of it. More aggressive IV antibiotics are generally used in the chronic stage of the disease. Lyme’s Disease is found on all the continents, but interestingly Montana is the only state with no federally reported cases. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t present, just that it hasn’t been reported.
Anaplasmosis, also called Ehrlichiosis, is another bacterial disease, typically developing 5-10 days after having been bitten by the deer tick. The symptoms are flu-like - fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. This disease also is treated with antibiotics.
How Do I Avoid Tick Bites?
There are precautions that we can take to keep ticks off of ourselves, such as wearing light colored clothing to easily see them. Also, tuck pants legs into boots or socks, and if you really want to get serious, tape along the entire length where the pant leg tucks into the sock or boot, to further ensure the ticks can't crawl inside. Also, apply a bug spray to deter them from climbing on you. It’s a little harder to keep them off our horses, but there are measures to be taken for that, too.
The other day I was at the pasture checking the horses and spraying them with bug spray when I noticed that one of the horses had at least 50-75 ticks on his sheath and between his back legs! There was no way I could pick off and kill all of them so I soaked him down in that area with Farnam’s Wipe which contains permethrin. Permethrin will kill ticks on contact, and that’s exactly what it did – within seconds I could see them die. They didn’t fall off immediately, but it didn’t take long for that to happen too.
We do the best we can to keep the ticks off our horses by spraying their legs with a fly spray containing permethrin or cypermethrin, and in the spring we’ll clip the horses’ legs to their knees in order to see the ticks more easily for removal. We do the best we can but every now and again we’ll still have a horse that will come down with either Lyme disease or Anaplasmosis.
*To learn more about deer ticks, Lyme disease and other tick-related illnesses, please check out these sites where we got some of the above info:
Merck Vet Manual; MN Dept. of Health; LDF - Lyme Disease Foundation; NCID - National Center for Infectious Diseases; Horse.com and Illinois Department of Public Health.