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Lions and tigers and ticks, oh my!

A summary of Tick-Borne Diseases in Ontario and how to protect your pets


What exactly are these creepy crawlers?


Ticks are parasites that fall under the category of arachnids, meaning they are related to spiders. They develop from eggs to larva to nymphs and finally become adults. Adult ticks have two body parts with four pairs of legs and are flat top-to-bottom. Ticks like to attach firmly and feed on the blood of both humans and animals. During the time they spend feeding they can transmit many diseases to the host (humans or animals) they are attached to. Ticks either attach to their host by crawling directly onto them or by climbing long vegetation and waiting for a potential host to pass by. Ticks are most active when the temperature is above freezing (>4°C), but they can survive in the winter protected under leaf litter or brush.


Wait…there is more than one type of tick?


There are over 900 types of ticks, but as of right now only certain types are present in Ontario. However, with warmer temperatures we will see more types appear in Canada as they move up from the South. The images below show the two types of ticks we commonly see in Southwestern Ontario. The Black-legged/Deer tick prefers to live in a high moisture environment (ex. leaf litter under a forest canopy), whereas the American Dog Tick likes a drier environment (ex. long grass).



What diseases can they transmit?


The Blacklegged/Deer tick can transmit the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is responsible for causing Lyme disease. This tick can also carry another bacteria called Anaplasma phagocytophilum, resulting in Canine Granulocytic Anaplasmosis. The American Dog Tick can transmit the bacteria Rickettsia rickettsia, which causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in both people and dogs.


Below is a map from Public Health showing the areas in Ontario where there is an increased risk of encountering a tick that carries lyme disease.




How do I keep my pets safe?


The best way to protect your pets against ticks is through preventive products available directly from your veterinary clinic. These products have been rigorously tested for both efficacy and safety for your pet. There is both topical and oral products that can be used monthly. In Ontario preventive products should be used from April until December, however anytime that the temperature is above 4°C ticks can be active and attach to pets when they are outside. Additionally, if your pet travels down South or to a tick dense area in Ontario it is important to remember to apply tick prevention before leaving. Year-round administration of a tick preventive allows for thorough protection and ease in remembering to apply it monthly. Topical products work by repelling ticks and insects away from your animal. Oral chews allow the tick to attach, but then disrupt the tick’s nervous system ultimately killing the tick before it is able to transmit any bacteria. There is also a lyme vaccine that can help to prevent lyme disease in dogs.


In addition to monthly tick prevention, it is also good practice to check your pets for ticks regularly. Areas to focus on looking for ticks include: their ears, around their eyes, armpits, groin area, between the paw pads, neck area and under their collar. If you find a tick on your pet, it is best to remove it in order to prevent disease transmission. However, if you are unsure if a lump is actually a tick please bring your animal in to the clinic before trying to remove it yourself. The best way to remove it is to take a pair of tweezers, grasp the tick as closely to the skin as possible then pull up gently until the tick releases itself. The skin where the tick was attached should heal well on its own. Do not attempt to use a noxious substance in an effort to remove a tick. Ticks are more likely to regurgitate anything that it has taken as a blood meal when it is exposed to a noxious substance, which increases the chance of disease transmission.


The Veterinarians at TRVS recommend running a blood test on your pet 8 weeks after finding an attached tick to determine if your animal has contracted any tick-borne diseases. This will allow us to intervene early, monitor for disease and prescribe treatment if required. We also suggest testing yearly for lyme disease which is included in our regular heartworm test completed each May. This in clinic test requires a small amount of blood from your pet to give either a positive or negative result once processed.


We are happy to discuss tick prevention products or the lyme vaccine in more detail to find the ideal option for your furry friend! Please contact the clinic if you have any questions or would like to book an appointment for tick prevention.


Here are some other great resources on ticks:


Written by Dr. Courtney Anderson

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