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THE 12 MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT TICKS

Ticks have no secret for the veterinary teams at Passionimo. Here are the 12 most frequently asked questions about those parasites gaining grounds among humans and dogs, particularly due to Lyme disease.

1. Why do we hear more about ticks today?

In the past, ticks were a bigger issue in tropical countries and the southern United States. Thanks to global warming, they are now more widespread in Quebec, bringing along several issues.

They travelled here using migratory birds and other wildlife. Lyme disease was discovered in Connecticut, which is about a 5-hour drive from Montreal, meaning that Quebec is now relatively close to the disease’s epicentre.

2. What does a tick look like?

This will depend on which one of 3 lifecycle stages it’s at: larvae, nymph, or adult. Only ticks in the 2 latter stages can transmit diseases. Nymphs are the size of a sesame seed while adults are the size of a raisin with 8 legs, making ticks more closely related to spiders than insects.

Ticks are not so easy to crush; 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.

3. What species of ticks pose the greater threat to pets?

There are more than 40 species of ticks in Canada. Among the most common species found in our province, there is the Ixodes scapularis tick, also known as deer tick or black-legged tick, which can transmit Lyme disease.

The 3 following species are not Lyme disease carriers:

  • Dermacentor variabilis also known as American dog tick or wood tick
  • Amblyomma americanum also known as lone star tick
  • Rhipicephalus sanguineus also known as kennel tick

4. Where can pets get infected by ticks?

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

5. When do ticks get active?

Those 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 we try to protect pets from March to December when temperatures make ticks active. Ticks are very patient creatures: they can stay latent for months between 2 lifecycle stages if necessary.

6. How do ticks “attack” their victims?

Ticks climb on leaves, grass, or branches and hold their front legs aloft, waiting for a potential host to brush by. They then raise their 2 rear legs in the air and find a comfortable spot on their host (legs, back, head, etc.) where they latch on.

Once latched on, ticks will wait to be fully gorged with the blood from their host before detaching. People often do not realize that there’s a tick firmly attached to their skin. Left undetected, ticks can feed off their host for days.

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. Once gorged with blood, ticks fall off the animal to lay eggs a few days later.

7. How to check my pet for ticks?

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

Take the time to check for ticks daily. This is a very important precaution because the disease transmission can occur a few days after the tick has latched on to its victim.

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

8. What to do if I find a tick on my cat or dog?

If your find a tick on your pet, our first advice is to consult your veterinarian who will be able to remove it safely and determine the species and likelihood of infection. If symptoms develop, a blood test can be performed to see if your pet is affected by a disease.

9. What is the best way to remove a tick?

Using fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible, and then pull upward slowly but firmly (applying constant pressure) until the tick detaches. Be careful not to tear the head off and leaving it lodged in the skin.

10. Can cats get ticks? 

Cats can be exposed in theory, but are not known to be sensitive to tick-borne diseases. However, we recommend you speak to your veterinarian about preventive products available, without risk to cats.

11. What are tick-borne diseases and the 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 test positive for the agent causing 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 (info in French), compared to merely 5 in 2011.

In affected dogs, Lyme disease can cause joint and kidney problems, fever, and lethargy (general fatigue, the pet becomes apathic). Often, dogs will stop eating and can run a low fever of up to 40.5°C. If the fever is higher, it’s typically caused by another disease. Those signs normally appear 2 to 5 months after the tick bite.

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.

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 symptom at all.

All those diseases can be serious if left untreated. About 10% of affected humans will develop post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, or PTLDS, a chronic version of the disease, which can last more than 6 months. One of the symptoms is chronic fatigue, which can easily be mistaken for fibromyalgia. It’s also believed that some dogs can be affected by this chronic form of Lyme disease.

12. What to do to protect my pet?

There are several prevention methods.

  • Your veterinarian can prescribe a preventive treatment that is easy, efficient, and safe, can be administered orally or topically during tick season, and will last several weeks. The choice of treatment will depend on your pet’s lifestyle.
  • 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 could suggest a Lyme disease vaccine.

However, current vaccines do not ensure a full protection against the disease and must be supplemented with a prevention treatment. As a bonus, most of those treatments will also be effective against other parasites. By protecting our dogs, we reduce tick burden in environments highly frequented by humans.

If you find a tick on your dog, there is a good chance that you’ve been exposed to a risky environment. In case of symptoms, please consult your doctor and share your history (date of outing, 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 contact the nearest Passionimo veterinary clinic.