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For many of us, summertime means spending hours and hours outdoors: hiking, running, walking in the woods. But even if you remember to wear insect repellant and regularly check yourself for ticks, which are most active during these warmer months, it’s easy to forget that your pets are vulnerable to these sneaky critters, too.
Ticks prefer moist, wooded, and shady hiding places such as tall grass, brush, and shrubs, and they can lurk in decidedly non-wild places too, like your backyard. In order to survive, they feed off the blood of humans and animals.
After a tick bite, your cat or dog could develop a serious illness such as Lyme disease (which can cause symptoms such as an abnormal gait or stance, fever, lethargy, and enlarged lymph nodes); Cytauxzoonosis (a parasitic infection specific to cats which can cause difficulty breathing, fever, loss of appetite, jaundice, coma and death); skin irritation or infection at the site of the wound; and other complications, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to protecting your pets from ticks, but there are ways to minimize their chances of picking one up and getting infected. (If your pet does get Lyme, treatment usually involves several weeks of antibiotics.)
Here, three strategies to help keep your dog or cat tick-free.
Check Your Pet Daily
If you live in or are visiting an area that’s particularly vulnerable to ticks (check the CDC’s website if you’re not sure), one of your best defenses is to inspect your pet daily, says Lori Bierbrier, D.V.M., a veterinarian and medical director of the Community Medicine program at the ASPCA.
“Just having the tick walking on your pet is not dangerous,” she says, “it’s when the tick attaches and feeds for a long period of time, over a day or two—that’s when parasites can be transmitted.”
Pets with longer hair or fur may be particularly likely to pick up a tick, says Martine Hartogensis, D.V.M., deputy director of the Office of Surveillance and Compliance in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine, because it provides the critters with more surface area to latch onto and more places to hide.
If you have a dog, dedicate a few minutes each day to brushing or combing, and run your hands through their fur.
Cats are vulnerable too, though typically less so than dogs, says…