Ticks have really jumped into the “Lyme” light (pardon the pun) the last couple of years, and rightfully so. Not only are ticks icky to look at, but they can also carry some very nasty bacteria and diseases.
Did you know that ticks are a member of the arachnid (spider) family? In Ontario there are 4 different types of ticks that can be found, the Brown Dog Tick, the American Dog Tick (a.k.a wood tick), the Black Legged tick (a.k.a Deer tick) and the Groundhog tick. It is this black-legged tick that we need to be most concerned about, as this is the tick that carries the bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi), which causes Lyme disease (it also carries Anaplasma, more about that a little later).
You may have heard the term “tick season” in the past, typically this would be spring and fall as ticks are most active once temperatures reach above 7 degrees. Adult ticks will remain active until either the temperatures reach the freezing point or temperatures over 25 degrees. These extreme temps do not mean that ticks will die; they simply will become dormant until the temperatures become more favourable again. In winters like the one we have had this year, where temperatures are reaching 10-15 degrees during the day, ticks can once again become lively. And in fact, we have seen the odd pet come in with a tick on them over the last number of months.
Ticks unlike fleas, do not have the ability to jump onto there “meal”, instead they have to “catch” it. They will climb to the end of a blade of grass, or hide within piles of leave and will wait to grab on to a host as they walk by. It is important to wear light coloured clothing, including long sleeve tops and socks with long pants (with your pant legs tucked into your socks) when hiking through tall grasses or wooded areas. Another tip would be to carry a sticky roll with you (the kind typically used to remove lint from clothes). Use it on yourself and your pet (focus on the lower part of their body, legs, neck and around their ears) once your walk is over… it’s amazing what you may find comes off of you! This is especially important because nymphs (juvenile ticks) are extremely small, about the size of a pinhead, which would make them hard to see with just a brief look.
It is also important to note, that if you do find a tick on yourself or your pet and it has already bitten do not just simply pull it off. The danger here is that it is possible for the body and the head to separate, and for the remaining piece to be lost under the skin, which could then cause an infection. Instead, the best thing to do is, using a pair of tweezers, grasp the tick, without squishing it, as closely to the skin as possible and slowly twist. The tick will release its hold and will be able to be removed in 1 piece. If you are concerned that you pet may have been exposed to Lyme disease, you can bring the tick into the clinic and we can have it sent off for testing.
While our focus has been on dogs and humans, outdoor cats can just as easily pick up a tick while out and about. We recommend following the same guidelines for tick removal in these cases.
In addition to having the ability to transfer Lyme disease to you and your pet, ticks can also carry Ehrlichia and Anaplasma, both of which are rickettsial organisms. These diseases are defined by different symptoms, but in both cases the disease infects the body’s white blood cells (the cells responsible for fighting infection). If you, like us, were wondering if one tick could carry multiple diseases, the answer is Yes.
For these reasons we recommend annual blood testing of your pet. Historically we have recommended testing for Heartworm in the spring, now in its place we will have what is called an AccuPlex test. This will not only check for Lyme disease, but also Ehrlichia, Anaplasma and Heartworm. We test for all of theses because your pet can be infected for long periods of time, without showing symptoms.
Revolution is our product of choice again. If a tick has bitten your pet, Revolution will kill some tick species within 24 hours. The tick will simply die and fall off your pet. In conjunction with Revolution, we offer a Lyme vaccine to those clients who may be travelling to an area where ticks are known to carry the disease. The vaccine ensures that your pet will not become infected even if bitten.