Ticks

Ticks and Lyme disease

Due to global warming, ticks have spread north and are now more common in Quebec, causing various problems.

WHY DO WE HEAR MORE ABOUT TICKS THESE DAYS?

In the past ticks were mostly found in tropical countries and the southern United States. Due to global warming they have spread north and are now more common in Quebec, causing various problems.

They travelled here via migratory birds and other wildlife. There are several tick species, one of which is responsible for causing Lyme disease in humans and dogs. Lyme disease was discovered in Connecticut, which is about a 5-hour drive from Montreal, meaning that the southern part of Quebec is relatively close to the disease’s epicentre.

WHAT DOES A TICK LOOK LIKE?

With 4 pairs of legs they look a lot like spiders but their appearance depends on which of the 3 lifecycle stages it’s at: larvae, nymph, or adult. Larvae are tiny, nymph is the size of a sesame seed, and an adult tick is the size of a raisin. Only the nymph and the adult can spread Lyme disease.

Ticks are not easy to crush, and they don’t jump nor fly. They can live up to 3 years during which females will lay 3,000 to 6,000 eggs, further contaminating the environment.

WHAT SPECIES OF TICKS POSE THE GREATEST THREAT TO PETS?

There are more than 40 species of ticks in Canada. Here are the most common in our area:

  • Ixodes scapularis tick, also known as deer tick or black-legged tick is one of the species responsible for transmitting Lyme disease.
  • Dermacentor variabilis also known as American dog tick or wood tick.
  • Amblyomma americanum also known as lone star tick, is known to cause a red meat allergy in humans.
  • Rhipicephalus sanguineus also known as kennel tick or brown dog’s tick, is responsible for transmitting diseases like ehrlichiosis and babesiosis in pets.

WHERE CAN PETS GET INFECTED BY TICKS?

Anywhere there is grass, including trails, parks, gardens, and even in your yard if it contains scrubs, and bushes, or if you live close to the woods. Ticks are not limited to rural areas. They are no longer a rare occurrence but an everyday reality.

DURING WHAT PERIOD IN THE YEAR ARE THEY ACTIVE?

These unwelcome pests get active as soon as the temperature reaches 4°C. They immediately start looking for a mammal that will provide them with both shelter and food, as they will feed off its blood. That is why, in Quebec, we try to protect pets from March to December.

HOW DO TICKS “ATTACK” THEIR VICTIMS?

  • Ticks climb on leaves, grass, or branches, and are always on the lookout, waiting for a potential host to brush past.
  • They latch on to the animal’s coat when they pass by, then find a comfy area on it so they can take a firm bite and feast on the host’s blood.
  • Once latched on, ticks will wait to be fully gorged with the blood from their host before detaching; this can take 4 to 5 days. People often do not realize that there’s a tick firmly attached to their skin.

Ticks even secrete a cement-like substance that “glues” them in place, and then drink blood for days on end, up to 10-100 times their volume. It is during this meal that ticks can transmit various diseases to the host, through their saliva. Once gorged with blood the tick falls off the animal and lays eggs a few days later.

HOW TO CHECK MY PET FOR TICKS?

With fur being an ideal hiding place, ticks are not easy to detect on our beloved companions. If your dog has thick fur, finding ticks can be quite the tall order!

Take some time to do a “tick check” every day. It is important to do it every day because a tick doesn’t spread Lyme disease right from the start, but after several hours of feeding. By removing ticks swiftly, we prevent transmission of disease.

Since you will take the time to cuddle with your pet anyway, you might as well use that bonding time to check their body—from legs to paws, without forgetting the neck and ears — to check for any signs of ticks.

WHAT DO I DO IF I FIND A TICK ON MY CAT OR DOG?

If you find a tick on your pet, our first advice is to consult your veterinarian. He or she will be able to remove it safely, without risk of the tick regurgitating the bacteria that can be responsible for Lyme disease. Your veterinarian can then determine the species and likelihood of infection. If symptoms develop, a blood test can be performed to see if your pet is infected by a disease.

Important fact:

Do not burn the tick or surround it with Vaseline or alcohol. Do not use a tweezer either, because of the risk of leaving the mouthpiece under the skin and causing an infection. Please do not try out all the urban legends out there!

 

WHAT ARE TICK-BORNE DISEASES AND ASSOCIATED SYMPTOMS?

  • Of course, Lyme disease is the one we hear about the most. Dogs are less susceptible than humans to contracting Lyme disease. Remember that only Ixodes scapularis ticks can transmit Lyme disease.
  • An increasingly greater number of ticks are testing positive for the agent that causes Lyme disease. In the United States, 300,000 Americans are diagnosed every year, triple the number of cases in the 1990s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Quebec, 249 individuals were diagnosed in 2017, compared to only 5 in 2011.
  • In affected dogs, Lyme disease can often cause joint issues and sometimes kidney problems, fever, and lethargy (general fatigue, the pet can barely move). Often, dogs will stop eating and can run a low fever of up to 40.5°C. We usually notice signs 2 to 5 months after a bite by a carrier tick.
  • Ticks are also carriers of a number of other diseases, including anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis. As with Lyme disease, both diseases are linked with one tick: deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) for the former and lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) for the latter. For now, these diseases are not so common in Quebec.
  • The symptoms of ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis are similar and will vary greatly from dog to dog. They generally appear 12 days after the tick bite. Typically, affected pets will be very tired and develop microhemorrhage (small purple spots on the skin of their belly). There can be complications such as an enlarged spleen, making the affected dog look bloated. Still other subjects will show no symptoms at all.

All these diseases can be serious if left untreated.

WHAT TO DO TO PROTECT MY PET?

By protecting our dogs we reduce further spread of ticks by stopping the cycle of feeding and laying eggs in areas with high human density. Therefore, if you find a tick on your dog, there is a good chance that you’ve been exposed to a risky environment.

There are several prevention methods.

  • Your veterinarian can prescribe various treatments against ticks that will meet your pet’s needs. They are usually easy to administer (by the mouth or on the skin), while being effective and safe. Treatments can be given monthly or can have a longer action, as long as they cover the entire period when the ticks are active, that is, as soon as it is over 4°C.
  • If your dog is considered at a higher risk (e.g., if your dog goes outdoors unattended, if you live in the Eastern Townships, if you visit infected areas, etc.), your veterinarian may suggest a Lyme disease vaccine.

In case of symptoms, please consult your doctor and share your history (date of outings, date of tick discovery, date of first symptoms). Remember that your pet cannot transmit the disease: only ticks can.

Remember that your veterinarian can help you to prevent, diagnose, and treat ticks. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact the Passionimo veterinary clinic near you.

Have more questions?

Please do not hesitate to contact the Passionimo veterinary clinic near you.

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