As the winter snow begins to thaw and temperatures begin to rise, it’s time that we turn our attention to the inevitable arrival of tick season. Ticks are tiny but pesky parasites that feed on blood. When they become engorged on a blood meal they are easily felt or seen. They can carry one or more diseases (eg. Lyme disease) that can be very debilitating to both humans and pets. No doubt about it, these facts are frightening. Read on to find out what makes ticks really “tick” and how to protect your furry pals from getting bitten.
Tick hiding spots
The peak time for ticks is early spring through fall when temperatures are warmer than other times of the year. As soon as temperatures rise above 4-5 deg C, ticks start to become active and seek out unsuspecting prey. Unfortunately for those that live in warmer climates, that means ticks can strike all year long. A few of the tick’s favourite hiding spots include areas with tall grass, bushes, leaf litter and even sandy beaches. Therefore, it is important to check your dog (and yourself) for ticks after each walk and hike that takes you off cement walkways during the warmer months. This year, unseasonably warm temperatures allowed ticks to become active as early as February in Ontario.
Types of ticks
Ticks are usually black or brown in colour, but turn a shade of greyish white once they’ve been feeding for about 24 hours. The type of tick that your pet will be susceptible to depends on the geographic region in which you live. The most common varieties of ticks in North America are:
- Black-Legged Deer Ticks
- American Dog Tick
- Brown Dog Tick
- Lone Star Tick
- Gulf Coast Tick
Not all ticks carry the same diseases, for example it is primarily the Black-legged Deer tick that transmits Lyme Disease to either people or pets.
Thankfully, there are many preventive products on the market that can help keep your pet safe. These include: tick collars that protect the head and neck, topical spot treatments, bi-weekly medicated shampoos, and sprays. However, your vet is most likely to suggest an oral medication (a monthly/tri-monthly chewable treat) as these medications are very effective as a preventive and compliance is easy. If you live in an area that is known for a high concentration of Black-legged deer ticks, a Lyme disease vaccine may be suggested.
You may also want to consider the following preventive measures that can help make your garden less hospitable to ticks:
- Remove fallen leaves regularly from your yard and dispose of debris
- Mow your lawn regularly to keep it relatively short
- Remove tall weeds
- Try to restrict your pet’s play area away to keep them away from shrubs and bushes
Please note that these preventive procedures are not a substitute for your pet’s annual check-up and preventive medications from your vet. It’s important to get your pet tested for tick related illnesses, especially if you live in an area that is highly susceptible to ticks.
Spotting a tick and how to remove it
When it comes to spotting a tick on your pet, it’s not just the furry flanks you need to be worried about. Ticks can be found hiding on your dog’s head, neck, in between toes, inside ears, and on their legs. Since it only takes one bite to transmit an infection, ticks must be removed as soon as they are found, ideally within 24 hours before they become fully engorged. If they are taking preventive medication, then the tick will die before any diseases can be transmitted. Whether you perform the removal yourself or seek help from your vet, the procedure usually involves removing the entire tick including its very small head. Simply yanking the tick away from your dog’s skin will not suffice. The head will be left buried in the skin and the stress on the tick will cause the tick to inject any disease carrying saliva into your dog’s body. There are many techniques available, such as gently massaging the tick’s body in a circular motion continuously until it lets go. Alternatively, there are specially designed tick twisters that will successfully unscrew the entire tick from your dog’s skin. Afterwards, the tick can be disposed of by flushing it down the toilet, or taken to your veterinarian for identification. If you are unsure of what to do, consult your veterinarian for more advice.
Although small, ticks can transmit some nasty diseases and deserve our respect. Due to climate change, areas previously unexposed to ticks of any kind are now permanent host areas. So even though ticks may never have been an issue where you live in previous years, there is a very good possibility that they are now. Although there are no preventive measures for people against ticks and the possibly transmitted diseases, there are some excellent measures available for our dogs. Your veterinarian will be an excellent source of what measures are best suited for your dog.