- Ticks are more likely to be active when the temperature rises above 0 degrees Celsius. March through May and September through December are when you'll most likely encounter adult ticks. From April to November, you can find nymphs (or baby stages). Depending on the weather, this makes almost the entire year a "tick season."
- I recommend keeping your dog on tick-preventive treatment from March to December.
- To avoid detection, ticks prefer to hide in dark, moist parts of the body, such as the ears, eyelids, collar, armpits, groin, between the toes, and under the tail of their hosts. Ticks often go undetected until they have been attached for a long time and are engorged.
- Ticks spread diseases like Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, and Ehrlichiosis.
- Baby ticks are called nymphs and are the size of poppy seeds. Ticks can expand up to four times their normal size after feeding on blood.
- Tick saliva reduces the pain of the bite, allowing ticks to remain undetected and feed for days. It also helps them latch on more successfully.
What are ticks?
While ticks are usually thought of as insects, they are actually arachnids, like scorpions, spiders, and mites.
They're ectoparasites (organisms that live on the exterior of an animal) that suck blood from their hosts and can carry and spread deadly diseases.
What diseases do ticks transmit?
There are a number of illnesses that ticks can transmit, and many can have significant (and in some cases, deadly) long-term consequences. That's why it's so important to avoid tick-borne diseases and get your pet to a skilled veterinarian as soon as possible if you notice any signs, before the health problems get worse.
Lyme disease is the most common disease transmitted by ticks. This disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and is spread by the bites of infected black-legged ticks.
Fatigue, fever, headaches, and rashes are common early signs of Lyme disease. It damages the joints, neurological system, and heart if left untreated.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia are both transmitted by American dog ticks.
Rocky Mountain Spotted fever symptoms range from headaches and muscular pains to vomiting and rashes. The condition can cause blood vessels to leak or form clots, resulting in inflammation of the brain, heart, or lungs. This tick-borne illness has the potential to be lethal.
Tularemia is a highly contagious bacterial illness that causes fever, weight loss, and ulceration at the site of infection. The illness can be lethal in extreme situations.
Another tick-borne illness is Encephalitis. While most infections cause moderate illness, deaths are possible. The virus causes brain inflammation, flu-like symptoms, and seizures.
Ehrlichia is another tick-borne disease that is spread by lone star ticks. If left untreated, it can cause respiratory and renal failure.
While many of the viruses that cause tick-borne illnesses are zoonotic and may infect people, disease cannot be transmitted directly between dogs and humans.
What types of ticks are there?
Ticks are classified into two types: hard ticks and soft ticks. Both species are found across North America, with hard ticks being more frequent in Canada.
Ticks have over 850 species documented globally. While some species cannot thrive indoors, others, such as brown dog ticks, may survive and reproduce.
The black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick (pictured), the brown dog tick, the American dog tick, and the Rocky Mountain wood tick, are all common tick species found throughout Canada.
Where can ticks be found?
Most tick species in Canada live in a wide range of places, from densely wooded areas and forests to grasslands.
As I mentioned in my prior blog post "Ticks Are Here!", this includes parks in the city. We have found ticks on dogs that were playing in Trinity Bellwoods, High Park, and a number of other parks in downtown Toronto.
Ticks used to be associated with living in the southern United States and South America, but recently they have become more and more prevalent in colder climates like Canada.
Some species of ticks can also live in homes, specifically, the brown dog tick. Though they don't bite humans and they don't carry Lyme disease, they have been known to cause massive infestations in homes. These ticks have been known to carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a disease that causes high fever, vomiting, muscle cramping, and even death in both humans and dogs.
What is the tick life cycle?
A tick's life cycle is similar to that of other arthropods, with metamorphosis beginning with the egg stage, progressing through larval stages, nymphal stages, and finally adult. At each stage of its life cycle, it needs to eat blood. After four to ten days, the eggs usually hatch into larvae with six legs.
A female can deposit thousands of eggs before passing away. Larvae fend for themselves after hatching, looking for a tiny blood meal. Nymphs resemble miniature adults with eight legs.
An adult tick has a life span that spans from one to three years, and it is generally correlated with the availability of a food supply during maturation.
Tick nymphs are most active in the spring and summer, whereas adults are most active in the late fall. Most of the time, they live in wooded areas with a lot of shade or in places with a lot of tall grass.
Ticks become active in the spring when the temperature rises above 4 °C, but it's never too early to start tick prevention! When temps begin to rise, your outdoor pets should be treated with a tick preventative.
How can ticks infect dogs?
Dogs typically catch ticks because they are outside, running through the woods or high grass, and the ticks are hanging on low bushes or grass, normally 18 to 24 inches from the ground.
They perch on the tip of a long blade of grass, waiting for an unwary host to pass by. When you, your dog, or any other warm-blooded animal goes by, they grasp hold and start looking for the best area to sink their fangs in.
Ticks just wait for their food sources, a bit like an ambush. They can even go for up to a year without eating, just waiting for the right animal to go by.
Once the weather warms up, you should check your dogs for ticks on a frequent basis, especially if you take them into the woods or on trails. Ticks love to stay near the head, neck, feet, and ears, so pay special attention to these regions.
How can we prevent ticks?
There are several methods you can use to help your dogs avoid these parasites. The first step in preventing tick bites and infection in your dog is to treat them with a topical preventative. These medications remain in the skin and, rather than killing ticks after they have bitten their host, kill them within 5 minutes of contact, before the tick can even bite.
There are also oral tick preventive options.
Another strategy to avoid infection is to monitor for exposure on a yearly basis. This is done with a test called a 4DX blood test.
As Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are frequently silent infections, the only way to make sure your dog doesn't get an illness that gets worse before it can be treated is to get this 4DX blood test done on an annual basis.
In addition to this bloodwork, if you detect a tick on your dog, you should get it analysed to check if it is a disease-carrying tick.
Finally, your dog can be vaccinated against Lyme disease. Though it is not a vaccination I would suggest for every dog, if your dog spends any time outside in well-known tick hot spots, it is advisable to have them vaccinated for Lyme disease.
It adds an extra layer of protection against developing Lyme disease if they are bitten by a tick or if you forget to give your pet a preventative medication.
In Our Residences
Proper landscaping measures to exclude and establish an unfavourable habitat for tick survival are the simplest way to manage tick infestations across our yards. Keeping the grass trimmed, getting rid of all the leaves and weeds, cutting tree limbs, and limiting your pet's activity may keep them from coming into contact with ticks.
There are insecticides that can get rid of a lot of ticks, and you can get them at local hardware stores or retail chains that sell them.
Because ticks may transmit potentially serious germs and viruses, anybody accessing tick-infested regions should wear appropriate clothes, keep shirts buttoned and tucked into slacks, and wear appropriate footwear. Also, you may be able to buy some repellents for both your skin and your clothes. When a pest problem gets bad enough, people who own homes or businesses may want to talk to a professional who knows how to get rid of ticks.
What should I do if I find a tick on my dog?
Ticks on your dog should be removed as quickly as possible, and you should seek assistance from your veterinarian.
- To handle the tick, use fine-tipped tweezers and disposable gloves. If you must use your fingers and don't have gloves, use a tissue or paper towel to protect yourself. By touching infected ticks, pathogens can get into the body through mucous membranes or breaks in the skin.
- Grab the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible. This lessens the chance of the head separating from the body during removal.
- Pull the tick straight out with uniform, consistent pressure. Even if the tick does not instantly release, keep applying continuous pressure. The tick may release after a minute or two of persistent, gradual tugging.
- There are additional gadgets called Tick Twisters or Tick Keys that might be beneficial. Use them with caution, however, because twisting or jerking the tick may cause the mouthpieces to break off and remain in the skin, increasing the risk of infection.
- After removing the tick, clean the bite area thoroughly and wash your hands with soap and water.
- Don't try home remedies like putting petroleum jelly or grease on the tick or rubbing the back of it with a hot match. These don't work and only make the tick salivate, which can make it more likely to get a disease.
- Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible if you are not comfortable removing a tick; if you can't remove it because it has dug itself too deep into the skin; if you notice signs of Lyme disease; or if you are worried you might get bitten.
Remember that the danger of tick exposure is greatest in woody, bushy areas where tick populations are established. Ticks may carry deadly illnesses, like Lyme disease, when they latch on to your pet to feed on their blood. Also, the greatest defence against these dangerous parasites is appropriate parasite prevention.
If you have any questions about ticks that I didn't cover or you'd like to discuss parasite prevention for your pet, you can call us at (416) 966-1830 to set up an appointment.