ATLANTA -- Spot a flea or two on your dog or cat, and the reaction is likely to be a slight shudder and a mental note to check the calendar to see if it's time for the monthly application of a few magic drops between the shoulder blades.
But spot a tick or two on your pet, and the reaction is more likely to be a string of swear words, or even a scream.
There's something about those nasty eight-legged pests that evokes a visceral reaction and does more than trigger a desire for parasite control: The sight of a tick, says internationally known flea and tick expert Dr. Michael Dryden of Kansas State University, makes pet owners dream of a nuclear option able to annihilate the blood-sucking pests in as complete and painful a way as possible.
And if possible, by yesterday.
Says Dr. Dryden, affectionately known as "Dr. Flea" in veterinary and academic circles, don't hold your breath. That's because the range and numbers of North America's tick species -- about a dozen of them -- just keep growing, along with the populations of deer and wild turkey that serve as their primary targets.
"When I started studying ticks, I didn't know I needed to study deer," Dr. Dryden said at the American Veterinary Medical Association's recent convention in Atlanta. "But where there are deer, there are ticks. When I was growing up, we used to stop and stare in amazement when we saw a deer. Now, you only stop if you hit one."
The explosion of deer populations means that ticks are everywhere -- and in mild climates, they're a year-round problem that's not getting better and likely won't.
Aggressive hunting and deforestation had decimated deer and turkey populations by the beginning of the last century, said Dr. Dryden, noting that the deer population of the United States and Canada fell below 300,000 before legislation banned the mass slaughter of game animals -- and the U.S. alone is now approaching 28 million deer.
Add increases in the number of deer and wild turkey -- perfect hosts for juvenile ticks, noted Dr. Dryden -- to the successful efforts to regrow forests, as well as a mobile human population that loves to be where the wild things are, and, well, the good news for ticks just keeps coming.
"It's a numbers game," said Dr. Dryden, who said the problem widely thought to be resistance to tick-control products is really a matter of those products being overwhelmed. In some areas, a dog can pick up one tick per minute on a simple walk, and if a spot-on product eliminates all but a couple of them, the dog's owner will consider it a failure.
"Tick control isn't like flea control," he said. "People want to have ticks eliminated and repelled, and that's just not possible."
Still, he says, some products seem to do better in different regions against different tick populations, making it worthwhile to ask your veterinarian which product works best in your area. For the ticks that remain -- and there will always be ticks, ticks and more ticks -- picking them off with tweezers or a tick-removal tool immediately after a walk remains the best defense against the parasites. On your property, keep grasses cut low, leaf piles cleaned up and spray under shrubs and along the fence lines, where ticks are waiting for you and your pets.
That, or avoid the areas where ticks are heaviest from spring through fall.
"Sometimes, the only thing I can advise is that you can't take your dog where you've been taking your dog," said Dr. Dryden.
Parrots can survive
the shift to feral
Q: There has been a big green parrot flying around my neighborhood for the last couple of years. Can parrots really survive so far away from their natural habitat? -- T.S., via e-mail
A: Depends on where you live. If you live in warm Southern California or tropical South Florida, the answer is likely to be "yes." Both of those regions are well-known for colonies of feral parrots -- escaped pets, most likely, now living as wild. Even in cooler, more northern climates, sightings of parrots gone wild are not uncommon.
Some areas consider feral parrots to be a threat to native species, as in the case of a Quaker (also known as Monk) parakeet. The bird's easy ability to thrive in the wild and its aggressive colonizing tendencies have led to the species being banned as pets in some jurisdictions, most notably the entire state of California.
On trips to Southern California, I haven't noticed any Quaker parakeets, but I have seen many other parrots -- and listened to their loud calls to each other at dawn and dusk. In Northern California, San Francisco has a well-known colony of feral parrots, and even where I live in Sacramento, Calif., my old neighborhood had a couple of conures living wild for years -- and I assume they're still there.
By the way, some if not most parrots will not survive the transition from house pet to wild animal, so setting one "free" if you can no longer provide a home isn't a good option, either for your bird or for the environment. - Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taking cat's pulse
isn't hard to do
-- A cat's heart normally beats between 140 and 220 times per minute, with a relaxed cat on the lower end of the scale. It's not unusual for a heartbeat to be high at the veterinarian's, since cats don't like being away from home, and they certainly don't like being poked and prodded by strangers. You also can take your cat's pulse at home. You need a watch that clicks the seconds off and your cat, of course. Put your hand over your cat's left side, behind the front leg. You'll feel the heart pulsing beneath your fingers. (If you can't, you might talk to your veterinarian about getting some of the weight off your cat.) Count the beats while 15 seconds click off your watch; multiply by four to get the BPM, or beats per minute.
-- Of all the animals to disappear from the face of the Earth, nine out of 10 have been birds, and among these the most well-known is arguably the dodo. The flightless bird had no natural enemies and thus was easy prey for European explorers who killed them not only to eat, but also for sport because the birds had no natural fear of humans. Those birds that survived the explorers were doomed by the settlers, whose dogs, cats and pigs ate fledglings as well as eggs. In less than a century after the birds were discovered by Europeans in 1598, not a single dodo was alive.
-- With a compact size, easy-care coat and happy nature, the beagle has long had a place as one of the most popular breeds for families. They're also used as scent detection dogs at U.S. airports, where their friendliness allows them to search for weapons, drugs and illegal food items without making passengers nervous the way a larger "police dog" might. The breed was developed in England to hunt rabbits, and beagles are still happiest when following their noses. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.