What are ticks?
Although ticks are commonly thought of as insects they are actually relatives of spiders and scorpions. Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of their host – either animal or human. Ticks are efficient carriers of disease because they attach firmly when sucking blood; they feed slowly and may go unnoticed for several days. They can carry Lyme disease, Ehrlichia and other diseases which are transmissible to dogs and people. Cats are such fastidious groomers that it is rare to find a tick attached to them. There are very few cases of cats contracting tick-borne diseases. Prevention and vaccination are options for our canine friends, but not recommended for cats.
Where are ticks found?
In Ontario, Black Legged ticks are more commonly found in rural areas along the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. However, as ticks also feed on migratory birds they can be deposited anywhere to start new “hotspots”.
Ticks wait for a host animal on the tips of grasses and shrubs. Ticks can only crawl, they cannot fly or jump. A good predictor of dense tick populations is an environment with sandy soil, hardwood trees, rivers and the presence of deer.
When are ticks around?
Ticks are most active during April and May, then again from September to November. This may vary slightly year to year due to temperature fluctuations; in 2012 we saw ticks as early as March. The American Dog Tick, which does not carry Lyme disease, is active throughout the summer.
What do you do when you find a tick?
The best way to find ticks on your pet is to run your hands over their whole body. Check every time your pet comes back from an area you think might be inhabited by ticks. Ticks attach most frequently around the pet’s head, ears, neck, feet, and the base of the tail but, can be anywhere on the body. When you find a tick on your dog, it should be removed as soon as possible. Lyme disease cannot be transmitted until after the tick has been feeding for at least 24 hours, so rapid removal of the tick is key! If you are not comfortable doing it yourself you can bring your dog to our hospital and we will remove it for you. Please be advised that infectious agents may be contracted through mucous membranes or broken skin. If you are removing the tick at home:
- Use blunt tweezers or disposable gloves to handle the tick.
- Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, reducing the possibility of detaching the tick’s head.
- Pull the tick straight out with a steady, even pressure. It may take a minute or two of constant slow pulling to cause the tick to release.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite area and wash your hands with soap and water.
- Place the tick into a sealed container (pill vial, sandwich bag, etc.) and bring to the hospital for identification.
Home remedies are usually not effective and are not recommended. Some may even cause the tick to salivate, which actually increases the risk of disease.
Testing post exposure
If your dog was bitten by an unidentified tick a blood test can be done 6 weeks after the exposure to help rule out the presence of Lyme disease.
If your dog is going to be frequenting high risk areas consider adding a Lyme vaccine to their annual vaccine protocol. Lyme vaccine acts by reducing the risk of contracting the disease.
There are a number of products that can be applied to your pet to deter tick attachment or kill the tick once attached. Please ask which product will work best for your pet’s lifestyle.
Some topical “Spot-On” tick products are NOT safe for use on or in close contact with cats. Please speak with us before you use any over the counter product on your pet.
If you have any further questions or concerns please do not hesitate to ask! One of our team members would be happy to assist you with making the best choices for your pet’s needs and lifestyle!