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Maybe it's time Tucsonans began worrying about ticks

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Ticks are not a Tucson issue. For years now one of the great boasts of Tucson veterinarians has been that for most pets in many neighborhoods, tick and flea control is a largely unnecessary precaution.

Everywhere else tick numbers and the diseases they carry are on the rise. Lyme disease is spreading faster than physicians can keep up with it. New York had the added worry about the discovery this summer of a novel tick-borne pathogen that is especially dangerous to people.

Here in most parts of Tucson there is little concern about ticks. Ticks are fairly rare and those that are encountered carry diseases with limited effects on humans.

All that changed in recent years with the spread of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) to the Tohono O'Odham reservation west of town and the Apache Reservation in the White Mountains. For the first time people were getting sick from dog ticks in large areas of Arizona previously unaffected.

In a recent article the growing risk to local dogs of catching this dangerous disease - or worse, infecting their owners with it - stated that dogs, especially those on the South and West sides of town, as well as those that head north to the White Mountains should use flea and tick prevention.

Since that time at least one local dog that does not travel was diagnosed with RMSF in Tucson's foothills. Coyotes, deer and Javelina, which all carry ticks, travel. You do not need to bring your dog to the ticks, they will be more than happy to bring the ticks to you. If your dog lives in an enclosed yard (as did the dog mentioned in this story) mice and other rodents carry ticks that can easily drop off of them and end up on your dog.

RMSF testing is expensive, and veterinarians do not often do it. They are under no obligation to release their findings to the press. Patient privacy means that they may do little more than mention it inside their own hospitals. The Tucson Foothills cannot be said to be a hot bed for ticks in Tucson. Most dogs in the area are not on prevention because their owners have never seen a tick.

Again, flea and tick prevention is a small price to pay for the health and well-being of your pet and your family. A future article in this series will introduce a novel flea and tick product just introduced to the veterinary community, which may make protecting your pet slightly less palatable for those who do not like the topical products.

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