Tips for talking to clients about ticks
Managing tick-borne diseases, especially Lyme disease, doesn't start with a diagnosis from the veterinarian. In fact, prevention should start at your clients' homes before they even see a tick. To make that happen, your whole veterinary team must educate clients on tick-related diseases and prevention strategies.
Lyme disease, which is transmitted mainly to dogs through the Ixodes scapularis tick, or deer tick, can lead to serious illness and has been on the rise in some parts of the country. The latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that about 40,000 people contracted Lyme disease in 2009. That's compared to 35,000 probable cases in 2008 and about 27,000 confirmed cases in 2007.
Where to startNikki Parker, LVT, and her team members at Animal Medical Associates in Saco, Maine, have seen a major increase in the number of dogs with Lyme disease in recent years. "Where we are in the Northeast, even on a 35 degree day in the middle of January, you'll see a tick," she says.
The practice doesn't take this increase lightly. Led by Dr. Sandra Mitchell, DABVP, the clinic has made Lyme disease prevention a priority by working hard to get pet owners up to speed. Parker relays their strategy: "Our first line of defense when it comes to client education is obviously a Lyme vaccine, as well as encouraging the owners to keep pets on a tick preventive—any kind that has some type of flea-and-tick preventive in it—year-round." (And even though Parker says Animal Medical Associates hasn't ever seen a case of feline Lyme disease, they still recommend year-round parasite prevention for cats.)
The practice also recommends that dog owners treat their yards with a tick preventive, especially if they opt out of year-round preventive treatment. They encourage pet owners to remove ticks from their pets as soon as they see them. If pet owners are concerned about the threat of Lyme disease, team members encourage them to bring their pets in for an examination.
Hit them from all sides
To drive home the importance of prevention, the veterinary team tries to get the message in front of the client as often as possible—whether it's through fliers in the lobby, discussions that begin when the dog is a puppy, or simply reiterating the dangers to clients who opt out of prevention strategies. "We mention it every step of the way through," Parker says. "The receptionist will mention it, I as the nurse will mention it, and the doctor will mention it. So clients get it from all different angles, and by the time they leave they think, 'Wow, four different people mentioned Lyme disease to me—maybe that's something I should be worried about.'"
While diagnosing Lyme disease is the veterinarian's responsibility, Parker is often the first person to initially examine dogs. So she notes any symptoms that may indicate Lyme disease, such as unexplained limping, loss of mobility, and any redness or irritation around the site of a tick bite. If she sees these, she mentions them to the doctor.
Lyme disease has been confirmed in pets in all 48 contiguous United States (for details, see the map). While it's more prominent in certain areas of the country, the disease is something every practice should consider. After all, the prevention of disease and parasites is just good medicine.