Why Are We Seeing More Ticks in Chicago?



Ticks – Not Just In the Woods Anymore

Experts predict that the tick population and the diseases they carry will continue to be more and more prevalent in our area.  Why?  While more temperate weather has provided conditions for ticks to be active for more months of the year and to grow in their habitats, there’s another big reason.  According to Dr. Susan Little, a veterinary parasitologist at Oklahoma State University, that reason is the increasing mouse population.

Immature black-legged ticks (AKA “deer ticks”), responsible for transmitting the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, prefer mice as hosts. (In their adult phase, black-legged ticks prefer deer as hosts, thus their nickname.)  Deforestation and reforestation over the last century created the forest fragmentation we see today.  These fragmented forest areas have significantly less biodiversity and cannot support the larger predators needed to keep the mouse population under control.  Fewer predators lead to more mice and subsequently more ticks.

Why does it matter?

Ticks can carry and transmit a multitude of diseases to our pets and to us, including:

  • Lyme disease
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Tularemia
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Babesiosis
  • Anaplasma

For a more comprehensive list, check out the Center for Disease Control’s website:  https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/diseases/

What should we do?

While many tick-borne diseases are treatable and/or manageable if diagnosed, some diseases can be fatal for both pets and humans.  Therefore staying vigilant and protecting your pets and yourself is incredibly important.  Here are some tips:

  • Check frequently. We recommend daily tick checks to limit the time a tick is attached.  Check more frequently if you and/or your pet are traveling through grassy or wooded areas.  Transmission times vary greatly based on the pathogen (15 minutes to 24+ hours).
  • Note the following attachment site preferences:
    • Usually areas of thinner skin
    • American dog ticks prefer the scalp & head
    • Black-legged tick tends to attach on trunk or legs
    • Lonestar tick generally prefers areas below the waist. These ticks are most common in the southern U.S. but have been moving north.  They are present in Illinois and most recently spotted in Chicago as well.
  • Use tick preventives for your pet. Family Pet Animal Hospital carries various effective products for prevention and control including topical and oral products.  While we used to recommend preventives from April through November, due to changing weather patterns and the increase in cases of ticks we’ve seen even in the winter months, our veterinarians now recommend year round preventives for most pets.  Talk to your pet’s veterinarian to determine which preventive is right for your pet and his/her lifestyle.
  • Vaccinate against Lyme, when appropriate.  Discuss the Lyme vaccine with your pet’s veterinarian.  We do vaccinate against Lyme in some of our patients which are at a high risk of exposure.  However, because the Lyme vaccine’s efficacy is not 100% and it provides NO protection for other tick-borne illnesses, the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital consider preventive measures (vigilant tick checks and prompt removal along with effective oral or topical preventives) to be paramount for protecting your pet.
  • Test annually for common tick-borne illnesses.  As we began to see more cases of these illnesses, Family Pet Animal Hospital changed our canine standards of care for annual wellness checkups to include a 4DX test, which tests for not only heartworm, but also Lyme, Erhlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis.


According to Dr. Little, another thing to keep in mind is that ticks typically do not fall from trees.  Instead, ticks typically will crawl onto an animal from grass or ground litter.  From there, they will attach to and crawl up your clothes until they find a good feeding site.  Because ticks want to feed undetected for days or even weeks, they inject an anesthetic into their host that numbs the skin and delays the immune response (such as swelling or itching).  You or your pets are unlikely to feel a tick feeding, so make sure your checks are thorough!

See the additional resources below for more information on ticks, the diseases they carry, and their growing prevalence.

Additional resources:

Start your Dog’s or Cat’s Flea/Tick Preventive Now (includes 2016 Cook County Parasite Prevalence infographic).

Choosing the Right Heartworm, Flea, and Tick Prevention for your Dog

Companion animal Parasite Council – Ticks

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – “Tickborne Diseases of the United States”

Beyond Lyme:  New Tick-Borne Diseases On the Rise in U.S.https://www.wbez.org/shows/all-things-considered/beyond-lyme-new-tickborne-diseases-on-the-rise-in-us/11ee9d0e-4c0d-450c-84b5-be8bd4f7ebc8


“Tick-Borne Illnesses Could Be On The Rise In Illinois This Summer.” WBEZ. N.p., 09 May 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.


Start Your Dog’s or Cat’s Flea/Tick Preventive Now


While the veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital recommend year round heartworm preventive (for an explanation on why, click here), we’ve generally recommended preventives for fleas and ticks April through November with caveats based on temperatures.  Because of the higher than average temperatures and bouts of very unseasonably warm weather we’ve had in the last couple of months, we’ve seen patients with fleas and/or ticks or our clients have reported seeing them on their pets or in their homes.  If you have not started your pet on external parasite preventives yet this season, we recommend you go ahead and start now.

External parasites, such as fleas, ticks, or mites, are an annoyance that many pets (and their owners) will experience at some point.  Not only can these parasites cause discomfort and skin problems but they can also carry serious diseases.  Modern preventives make treatment, control, and prevention of many external parasites easy and safe.


How does my pet get fleas?

Fleas thrive when the weather is warm and humid and can be found in areas frequented by other cats and dogs.  Unfortunately, fleas can also thrive in our homes.  In Chicago, fleas are typically a seasonal problem.  However, because fleas can also survive in our homes, if they are not eradicated in the home, problems may persist through times not typically associated with flea infestations (summer).

How do my pet and home become infested with fleas?

Adult fleas spent virtually all their time on their host, feeding, and laying eggs (for females).  Females begin laying eggs within 24 hours of landing on a host.  The eggs fall off of your pet into the environment, hatch into larvae, and burrow into carpets, furniture, bedding, or soil in the outside environment), where they can lay dormant for weeks.  Once they emerge as adults, they will seek a host to begin the cycle again.

How do I know if my pet has fleas?

Fleas bite the host and feed off the host’s blood.  You may not recognize that your pet has fleas until the fleas have multiplied to the point that your pet is experiencing visible discomfort – from skin redness and itchiness to open sores and skin infections.  Fleas are no bigger than a sesame seed and are fast movers.  Here are a few ways to check for fleas:

  • If you see a small red or brown, moving speck on your pet, it’s probably a fleaComb your pet’s hair the “wrong” way (back to front) to get a good look at his or her skin.
  • You can find flea combs at pet stores, but any fine-toothed comb will work.
  • Look for red, irritated skin on your dog’s neck, belly, or hindquarters
  • If you see specks of “flea dirt,” the digested blood the flea has excreted, on your pet’s skin or fur, he or she may have fleas.

Should you suspect a flea infestation, contact us to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.  Our doctors and staff will be able to determine if your pet has fleas and proceed with proper treatment.  Additionally, we can make recommendations on how to properly clean your pet’s sleeping quarters and the rest of your home to minimize the risk of re-infestation.

If my pet has fleas, what’s the big deal?

Besides the discomfort it can cause, flea infestations can drain enough blood from your pet to make him or her anemic.  Additionally, fleas also carry tapeworms which can infect your pet if your pet ingests the infected flea(s).

How does my pet get ticks?

Ticks are commonly found in wooded areas, brush and undergrowth.  Pets or people who frequent these types of areas are at risk of becoming a tick’s host.  In recent years, we’ve seen a slightly higher frequency of dogs that live in Chicago contracting ticks as well.  Immature ticks feed on small, wild animals.  Adults typically seek larger hosts such as dogs and cats.

What are the dangers of tick bites?

Ticks can not only cause skin irritation and anemia in pets, but are also capable of spreading serious diseases such as Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (uncommon in the Midwest), Anaplasmosis, and Erlichiosis to your pets.

How do I identify ticks on my pet?  What should I do if I find one or more ticks on my pet?

Ticks can be found anywhere on your pet, but are most commonly found around your pet’s neck, in the ears, between the toes, and in the folds between the legs and body.  These parasites use their tiny sharp teeth to embed themselves firmly into their hosts’ skin and tissue.  An adult tick is roughly 3mm in size and therefore visible to the naked eye.  In their larvae and nymph stages, they are much smaller and may be difficult to identify on your pet.

Ticks feed on the blood of the host and an adult female can ingest up to 100 times her weight in blood.  Typically, pet owners only discover ticks on their pet once the parasite has been feeding and has become engorged.  Prompt removal of ticks on your pet can lessen the chance of disease transmission.  Ticks should be removed properly, with care, to avoid leaving the mouth parts embedded in your pet, which can cause irritation and infection.

If you find ticks on your dog, we strongly recommend consulting with your pet’s veterinarian.  The doctors and staff at Family Pet Animal Hospital can remove ticks appropriately as well as provide recommendations for the appropriate treatment, tick-borne disease screening, and prevention.

What’s the best flea and tick preventive for my pet?

Family Pet Animal Hospital has various effective products for flea and tick prevention and control including monthly topical products and a three-month oral product.  There are many factors to consider when choosing the right preventive(s) for your pet.  The veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital can recommend and appropriate parasite control plan for your pet based on his/her and your family’s lifestyle and needs.


Additional resources:

Tick encounter resource center:  www.tickencounter.org


“External Parasites.” External Parasites. American Veterinary Medical Association, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

“How at risk is your pet? View CAPC Parasite Prevalence Maps.” CAPC Vet. Companion Animal Parasite Council, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Meet Alexander – A Young (9!), Impressive Animal Advocate


alexanderWe’d like to introduce you to Alexander.  At age nine, he’s one of Dr. Jane’s youngest clients and one of the most passionate, blossoming animal advocates we’ve had the pleasure of knowing.  As part of his commitment to animals, he decided to become a vegetarian earlier this year because “he loves animals too much.”  Not only is he a pet owner/lover and a vegetarian, he’s nurtured quite an affinity for a South Haven, Michigan animal shelter – the Al-Van Humane Society – and actively volunteers there when time allows.

At Al-Van Humane Society, Alexander’s focus is on socializing cats and assisting with cat adoptions.  He takes the time to get to know the personalities of the cats at the shelter in order to make effective recommendations to prospective adopters.  He has personally facilitated 86 cat adoptions so far! 

According to Al-Van’s C.A.R.E.S. Campaign information on their website , “In 2012 the Al-Van Board of Directors refined its mission, adopting no-kill best practices to ensure all adoptable animals would be cared for by Al-Van until a forever home was found, no matter how long that took. As a result, Al-Van reached out to our community to become active partners in saving the lives of companion animals. And boy did our community step up! Al-Van has increased its number of foster families, number of active volunteers and number of Meet & Greets held outside the shelter. Best of all- we’ve increased our ‘save rate’ from 18% in 2011 to an all-time high save rate of 90% in 2014.”

Due to the shelter’s increased need for space, Al-Van has purchased an additional building to house the large number of animals in the community that are in need of saving.  The shelter launched the Al-Van C.A.R.E.S (Community And Resources Enhance Shelter) campaign to raise much needed funds to bring their vision for this new facility to life.  A member of the Board of Directors took notice of Alexander’s passion, efforts, and abilities and asked him to participate in one of the planned C.A.R.E.S. campaign videos.  While he was initially nervous about the public speaking aspect of the project, he quickly decided that he “had to do whatever he could to help the animals.”  Check out the video and we’re sure you’ll agree with the doctors and staff here at Family Pet Animal Hospital – Alexander is a wonderful public speaker and we admire his commitment to these animals.


The Al-Van C.A.R.E.S. Capital Campaign has set a goal of raising $500,000 to complete the renovations for the new facility.  Over $100,000 has been raised so far but there is much more work to be completed (see here for more details).  If you are interested in donating to the shelter to support their efforts caring for animals in need, or specifically to the C.A.R.E.S. Capital Campaign, check out their donation page here.

All of us here at Family Pet Animal Hospital are so impressed with Alexander’s commitment to animals.  It’s a pleasure to watch him use his talents and passion for a cause we hold dear.  Way to go, Alexander!  Keep up the amazing work!



Pet Insurance – Is It Worth It?



The last thing you want to think about when your pet is sick or injured is how much the veterinary care will cost.  Pet insurance helps to cover the cost of unexpected veterinary costs so that you can focus on making sure your pet gets the best care.

Understanding the Cost of Pet Care

Understanding the cost of veterinary care is an important part of making a decision about purchasing pet health insurance.  According to Wallet Hub, dog owners spend an estimated $235 – $776 per year on veterinary care, and cat owners spend $160-$564.  While lifespans vary, that can equate to around $10,000 over the course of your pet’s life!

However, due to the other financial obligations people have, only 3% of dogs and 1% of cats are insured. Of course, those that don’t have pet insurance are asking the question – “Is it worth it?  Is the protection against an unexpected cost of veterinary care worth the monthly premiums?”  There are two basic scenarios to consider:

  • The insurance pays out less than what you paid in premiums because your pet stayed healthy and did not have any accidents.
  • The insurance pays out more than what you put in if your pet does get injured or become ill.

Because either scenario is possible, pet insurance should not be used with the expectation of saving money.  Let’s break down the potential benefits by looking at the numbers:

  • Average life span of a dog:  10-13 years, approximately 11.5 years
  • Average cost of pet insurance for a dog = $32/month (according to pet insurances quotes)
  • Average cost of premiums over a dog’s lifetime = 11.5 years x 12 months/year x $32/month = $4,416
  • Potential estimated savings:  $8,924 (high end of estimated cost of lifetime care for a dog) – $4,416 = $4,508


  • Average life span of a cat:  15 years
  • Average cost of pet insurance for a cat = $26/month
  • Average cost of premiums over a cat’s lifetime = 15 years x 12 months/year x $26/month = $4,680
  • Potential estimated savings:  $8,460 (high end of estimated cost of lifetime care for a cat) – $4,680 = $3,780

None of us have a magic 8 ball to know whether or not your pet will get injured or become ill and whether pet insurance will be “worth it.”  However, at Family Pet Animal Hospital, we recommend having health insurance simply to help you soften the financial burden if something unexpected happens, so that you may provide optimal medical care for your pet that you may not otherwise be able to afford.  Pet insurance will provide the peace of mind that you will not have to sacrifice saving the life of your pet due to financial considerations.

What Should I Consider?

When deciding on what insurance is best for you and your pet, consider the following:

  • Do not choose your pet insurance provider based on cost alone. Choose it based on the coverage provided.
  • Choose the right maximum payout structure that first your “worst case scenario costs” (the threshold beyond which you would not be able to pay for your pet’s injury or illness – this will vary for everyone).
  • If possible, choose a plan that has coverage for cancer, hereditary and congenital diseases, continual coverage for chronic disease, medical conditions common to your pet’s species and breed.
  • Pre-existing conditions are not covered by ANY pet health insurance company. Therefore the sooner you get coverage for your pet the better.
  • Insurance companies have differing deductibles, maximum payouts, and waiting periods and restrictions. Read through policies carefully.

Our Pet Insurance Recommendations

We want pet owners find the insurance that best fits their needs and the needs of their pet.  Here at Family Pet Animal Hospital, we recommend Figo, Embrace, and Trupanion.  (Pet Insurance Review offers a plethora of information to help you choose the right insurance for you and your pet.)


(insert graphics for coverage for each or table of comparison)

Figo & Embrace at a glance.  Please note that information was pulled from each company’s respective websites and Family Pet Animal Hospital cannot guarantee accuracy of the information.  Please call the insurance provider directly with questions regarding exactly what is covered along with what is excluded.







Editor, author, or compiler name (if available).”Article name.”  Name of Site. Version number. Name of institution/organization affiliated with the site (sponsor or publisher), date of resource creation (if available). Medium of publication. Date of access.

Kiernan, John S.  “Is Pet Insurance Worth It?  Pros & Cons Explained.”  WalletHub.  n.d.  Web.  31 May 2016.

“100 Facts About Pet Insurance.”  PetInsuranceQuotes.  n.d.  Web.  31 May 2016.

Call for Foster Homes with Feline Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper) Outbreak at Local Shelter


You may have heard that there is a current outbreak of feline panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper, at Chicago Animal Care & Control. Feline panluekopenia is a highly contagious virus that attacks and destroys white blood cells, weakening the immune system and puts the cat at a greater risk of contracting secondary infections. We believe that there is minimal risk to the vast majority of our feline patients, but wanted everyone to be aware of the situation, especially anyone bringing home a new cat from a shelter or rescuing a stray.

Symptoms often include depression and extreme lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. The virus is shed in feces or vomit of an infected cat. Others can be exposed by sniffing or licking the vomit or feces or surfaces that have been contaminated.

Kittens are the most susceptible to the virus, although it can strike cats at any age. Generally, adult cats are more resistant because they have been previously vaccinated against panleukopenia or developed their own immunity through exposure to the virus in the natural environment. Studies have indicated cats that have received the appropriate vaccination series during kittenhood and their first booster as adults have long lasting immunity.

Family Pet Animal Hospital has NOT seen any cases of panleukopenia but will remain vigilant. We will take all necessary precautions with any suspect or high-risk patients (young, unvaccinated, sick, recently adopted from shelters/rescues) coming to the hospital – practicing all the appropriate isolation, disinfection, and handling protocols to minimize risk of spreading the infection.

Again, we reiterate that we believe there is minimal risk to the vast majority of our patients because of their vaccination status and likely natural immunity. However, we wanted to share the information.

Animal Care & Control enlisted the help of PAWS Chicago and other rescue groups in order to save as many lives as possible at the shelter. PAWS Chicago has taken in cats that are not currently sick but may have been exposed to the virus at ACC and are looking for potential foster homes. If you DO NOT have cats in your home and would like to foster, contact PAWS Chicago.