Well its that time of year again! The sun is coming out; the temperatures are rising. There is nothing we want to do more than spend all our spare time outside – hiking, camping and even just walking around the neighbourhood and relaxing in the back yard, basking in the sun and leaving the cold of winter behind us as nothing more than a memory. Unfortunately, it is also time to start worrying about ticks!
We are starting to see more talk of ‘tick season’ as veterinarians try to reach out and spread the word about the risks that these little pests pose to our fur kids. The Public Health Ontario Estimated Risk Areas map for Lyme disease includes a number of areas across Ontario – however even this isn’t the indication of the only place we are going to face a risk of picking up one of these stragglers. While the risk is lower outside of the estimated risk areas, everywhere we go outside poses a risk!
**Click on the Map for more information from Public Health Ontario**
What is a tick?
Ticks are members of the arachnid family, the same family that includes spiders and mites. They are small external parasites, feeding on the blood of their host which includes animals and humans! They go through a series of life stages, much like other arachnids. Adult ticks lay eggs that hatch into larvae. The larvae in time molt into nymphs and nymphs mature into adults who repeat the process by in turn laying more eggs. Depending on the species of tick this life cycle can take anywhere from 2 months to more than 2 years.
Both adult ticks and nymphs can carry a number of diseases, including lyme disease, which can be transmitted to you and your dog when they attach and feed. While there are at least 15 species of ticks found in North America, you are likely to only encounter a few species with your dog, including:
- American Dog Tick : The American Dog Tick is most often found in drier habitats where there are tall grasses, such as open fields. They are carriers for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever as well as other diseases.
- Deer or Blacklegged Tick : The Deer or Blacklegged requires moist habitats to survive, such as tall, wet grass or leaf litter located in wooded areas. This the species that is known for carrying Lyme disease as well as Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis and a few others.
- Brown Dog Tick : Unlike the other species listed, the Brown Dog Tick needs warm, protected indoor locations where there are dogs (their preferred host). They are less likely to be found in the colder climates, however have been seen across the province. They are carriers of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis.
The number of ticks found in Canada are on the rise! It is more important now than ever to be sure that you are familiar with how to spot a tick, what the risk factors are, ways to protect your pet as well as how to safely remove a tick!
Where Are We at Risk
As I referenced above, there is a level of risk anywhere in the province, however there are some areas that carry a much higher risk than others! Ticks are most often found in areas of ‘natural growth’ which include overgrown grass and weeds. This especially includes locations such as nature preserves, parks and forested or field areas that don’t receive regular maintenance. As you can imagine, the risk when partaking in activities such as camping and hiking are much higher!
Most species of ticks use the same process to find their host (animal/human they are going to feed off). This is an ‘ambush’ style approach. They climb to the tip of a blade of grass or brush and as the host walks past, brushing against the vegetation they simply let go, climbing aboard. Despite the common misconception, ticks cannot jump or fly – they can only crawl. When they first climb aboard their host they wander around, either looking for a mate or the best place to feed depending on the species. When feeding they actually embed their head into the skin, feeding on blood for several days until they have their fill and fall off their host to move onto the next life stage.
What Should I Watch For?
Anytime that you are outdoors with your dog, you should check for ticks both on yourself and your pup!
When checking your dog, ticks are most often found on the ears (both sides of the ear flap or in the opening to the ear canal), the lips, on the face, in the armpits and on or between the toes. These, however, are not the only areas you may find a tick hiding out! Look closely, separate the fur and check the skin across your pup’s entire body!
As for yourself, or your children, ticks gravitate towards areas where there is hair, or where there are gaps in your clothing.
If you do miss a tick, you may be able to spot the bite, however they are mainly painless and can go completely unnoticed while feeding. The bites often resemble a ‘bull’s eye’ on the skin – a red bite mark with rings of red and swollen skin surrounding it. If you ever spot a bite that resembles this description it is important to see a professional to be treated as soon as possible!
What Can I Do to Prevent Ticks?
There are several steps you can take to prevent bringing these little guys home! When getting dressed yourself, your clothing choices can keep you safe! Wear pants, long sleeved shirts, a hat and closed shoes when you are out hiking. If you will be walking through or near long grass, pull your socks up over your pant legs to avoid giving them access to your skin. If you wear lighter colours ticks are much easier to spot. You can also use insect repellents that contain DEET or lcaridin.
There are a number of products available on the market for your put including Advantix from Bayer and Revolution from Pfizer. I highly suggest having an in-depth discussion with your Veterinarian to help decide the best course of action for your pet! Don’t be afraid to ask questions – Your vet has your pet’s health in mind and will be happy to help you learn what you need to in order to do your best job in protecting them!
Remember that there are no products on the market that are 100% effective in tick prevention! Even if you take all the steps listed above, you are not free and clear. Always take the time to do a sweep or ticks after being out!
What Do I Do if I Spot a Tick?
This is a great video I came across from Monica Seto, the Manager of Shelter Health and wellness for the Ontario SPCA:
Ensure that you are wearing your gloves throughout the ENTIRE process, not removing them until the tick has been completely disposed of. Contact with the tick to your skin increases your chance of exposure to any diseases that it may be carrying!
If you are using a tick removal tool, approach the tick from the side, sliding the tool along the skin with the tick between the two prongs. Gently life and turn the tool until the tick releases its hold. Here are some great tick remover tools:
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If you are using tweezers grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as you can without grasping onto the head directly. Apply steady, even pressure while pulling the tick straight out, avoiding any twisting or jerking movements as this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. The tick may not release immediately, so continue to apply the steady, even pressure until it does!
At this point you can either dispose of the tick, or preserve it to be submitted to the Public Health Agency of Canada for both species determination and the possible detection of any diseases that the tick may be carrying. If you wanting to submit it, place it in a container with a moistened paper towel and contact your veterinarian. If you are disposing of the tick you can either place it in a plastic bag, seal it and wrap it tightly in tape, submerse it in alcohol or flush it down the toilet.
Disinfect the bite area by washing both the affected area and your hands with soap and water.
There are many other suggested ‘home remedies’ for tick removal that can be found online but exercise caution! Remedies such as applying petroleum jelly or grease, or the use of a hot match on the tick can increase the risk of getting a disease if the tick in question is a carrier!
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia Burgdorferi found in some deer or blacklegged ticks. While the tick is attached to the host and feeding these bacteria can be transmitted. The tick generally needs to be attached to the host for 24-48 hours in order to transmit the bacteria if it is a carrier. This means that diligent checks for ticks after being outside is your best weapon against the disease!
The disease presents itself initially with flu-like symptoms including fever, tiredness and loss of appetite as well as a rash and/or lameness. The symptoms may require treatment, or clear up on their own, but it is always better to consult a medical professional if you suspect you have transmitted the disease!
What steps are you taking to protect yourself and your fur kids from ticks this season? Have you ever encountered a tick in the past?