Ticks Out Early

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COLUMBIA - With the warm weather comes some unwanted friends. Veterinarians are warning pet owners that this year's tick season may be worse than years past.

"I've had ticks on my animals in January and February," said Noah's Ark Animal Hospital Veterinarian Greg Chapman. "So they're out there. They just started reproducing quicker because we had a nice warm spring."

Jim Jarmin, a Agronomy Specialist for the University of Missouri Extension, says that ticks are alive during the winter months but are usually inactive because of the colder temperatures. But this year, because of the warm winter, he say ticks had the chance to breed and look for food earlier.

"Because it is warmer and they are a cold blooded type of animal, the warmer they are the more active they are," said Jarmin. "But there may not be opportunities for them to get a meal during the winter period so they may run themselves out of energy."

Because there aren't that many mild Missouri winters, Jarmin says it's hard to say how the weather will affect the ticks. This season may or may not be worse than usual, however, it will definitely mean the season will last longer. Because of this, veterinarian Chapman is telling pet owners to be wary of ticks. He says monthly tick medications can be used on both dogs and cats to prevent disease. He also says it's important to check pets after they have played in places where ticks like to live, generally in the woods or tall brush.

And animals aren't the only ones at risk. Ticks can carry certain diseases that are dangerous for humans. Jarmin says it's important to take precautions including wearing propper clothing while in the woods, using effective insect repellents such as deet and to check for ticks routinely.

If you do find a tick on yourself or on your pet it's also important to remove it properly. Do not squeeze the body of the tick. If it has already bit you make sure you take the tick out completely, removing it in the direction it went into the skin. Jarmin also advises to save the tick and bring it to a physician.

Because warm Missouri winters are uncommon, Jarmin says there hasn't been much study on what a warm winter will do to the tick population in the state. But it says it's better to be over cautious and prepare for worst.