Pet Owners at Higher Risk of Tick Exposure

Most pet owners view their dog or cat as “one of the family,” and having a pet sleep in bed or on the couch is a common practice for many.

While having a pet near is comforting and often provides health benefits, such as helping to lower blood pressure, animals in the house can also potentially introduce a serious health threat: Ticks.

A recent study by Yale School of Public Health researchers in collaboration with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the New York State Department of Health, examines the relationship between pet ownership and tick encounters and tick-borne disease. Published in the journal Zoonoses and Public Health, data from Connecticut, Maryland and New York showed owning indoor-outdoor pets doubles the human risk of tick exposure.

Pets can bring ticks from outside property into the home which increases a human’s exposure to ticks and possible tick bites.

James Meek, MPH

“Pets can bring ticks from outside property into the home which increases a human’s exposure to ticks and possible tick bites,” said James Meek, MPH, associate director of the Yale Emerging Infection Program at YSPH. “In addition, pet owners may engage in activities with their pets that take both themselves and their pets into tick habitats—such as walks in the woods or brushy areas—increasing the risk of tick encounters for both the pet and human.”

As a possible result of two consecutive warm winters which improve a ticks survival rate, 2017 is experiencing one of the highest abundance of ticks since 2011.And, a greater percentage of ticks are infected with Lyme disease and other tick-borne bacteria or parasites that can cause severe or even life-threatening illnesses.

While the study showed a higher rate of tick encounters, it did not show an increased rate of tick-borne disease among pet-owners as compared to non-pet owners.According to Meek, the rate of encounters stayed the same among households that did and did not use tick treatment products on their pets. This may be because some tick treatments kill attached ticks but do not repel them. So, unattached ticks can still be living on pets when brought into the house and then be transferred to a human host who comes in contact with the pet.

The study, conducted by TickNET, the tickborne diseases initiative of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Emerging Infections Program, surveyed homeowners in 2,727 households as part of a larger randomized controlled trial to assess the effectiveness of a tickborne disease intervention.

Certain property characteristics, such as having a bird feeder, compost pile or stone walls were also thought to contribute to an increase rate of ticks found on pet owners. Pet owners need to be aware that they are at higher risk of encountering ticks and should conduct daily tick checks of all household members including their pets.They should also talk to their veterinarian about effective tick control for their pets.

This article was submitted by Elisabeth Ann Reitman on July 12, 2017.