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Ask the Vet: Protect your furry friends from parasites

Dr. Amanda Bruce

Spring has long been synonymous with heartworm season for those of us in the veterinary world, but that is changing.

My staff and I have started thinking of spring as tick season, too. Before the snow is gone, the ticks will be out — and they will persist until winter sets in again.

Our region is at high risk for Lyme disease, which is spread by ticks. Throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota, we are seeing increases in Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses such as anaplasmosis, babesiosis and ehrlichiosis.

The nonprofit Companion Animal Parasite Council reports that one in five dogs in our region has been exposed to Lyme bacteria, and one in seven dogs has been exposed to anaplasmosis.

I recommend a two-pronged approach to protecting your dog. First, the Lyme vaccine should be considered a core vaccination and administered annually. Second, as soon as we have temperatures consistently above 30 degrees Fahrenheit, you should start your pet on a flea and tick preventative.

Ticks pose a health risk to people as well. Humans are susceptible to the majority of tick diseases our dogs can contract. Keeping ticks off our pets and out of our homes ultimately will lead to lower human exposure.

One of the most common products on the market, Frontline, works by storing its active ingredient, Fipronil, in the oil glands on the dog’s body. It then is distributed through the dog’s hair and skin, where fleas and ticks make contact.

Frontline can take 24 to 48 hours to kill ticks. It does not claim to repel ticks. And, because of the length of time it can take to work, owners sometimes see ticks crawling on and even attached to their pets. Many owners equate ticks on their pets with product failure. But there is no documented evidence that fleas or ticks have developed a resistance to Fipronil.

Keeping ticks off our pets and out of our homes is becoming a priority for pet owners, and producers of pet-care products are looking for ways to meet our expectations. Recently, we’ve seen a comeback for flea and tick collars.

These new products are low-odor and not greasy, unlike earlier versions. They also make claims to repel ticks and to kill any attaching ticks within eight hours.

The initial response to these products has been promising. But until we have more dogs and cats using them, it’s difficult to say whether they provide the solution we seek. My fingers are crossed.

Cats are not believed to show signs of illness from Lyme disease, but they still can bring ticks into your home. Cats spending time outdoors should not be overlooked.

Your veterinarian is your best resource for deciding the best tick preventative for your pet and its lifestyle. Many safe and effective products are on the market.

Start a conversation with your vet about what is right for your animal.

Dr. Amanda Bruce of Superior is owner of PetCare of Duluth, 2701 W. Superior St., Suite 102. You can reach her at or 218-461-4400. For more information visit