It's tick season already?

Even though there's still lots of snow on the ground, veterinarians want you to think about ticks, and think about them now.

March is tick awareness month for the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, because ticks don't wait for winter to disappear.

"We used to think of ticks along the same line as fleas or heart worm, that was more of warm weather issue, but now things have really changed over the last 20 years," said veterinarian Dr. Marti Hopson. "Any time the temperature is four degrees or higher, ticks can be active."

The one vets are really concerned about is the black-legged, or deer tick.

Lyme disease growing concern

"They carry borrelia , it's a spiral-shaped bacteria, it looks fun, like confetti at a party, but it causes Lyme disease," said Hopson. "And Lyme disease, we didn't even know about until the 1970s."

Everybody knows about it now. For two decades, it was only found nationally in one spot in Ontario, but the last 20 years have seen a massive spread across the country.

"It is crazy. Since 2004, the number of Lyme disease cases in humans has skyrocketed," said Hopson. "In 2004, it was under 50, and in 2016, it was closer to 1,000 cases of documented Lyme disease."

Numbers are still slight on P.E.I., thanks to the Northumberland Strait, but that explosion has occurred as close as Nova Scotia, and at some point in the next few years, the Island could be hit.

Bacteria comes from mice

The ticks get the bacteria from mice, and then are supposed to find larger mammals such as deer for hosts. But often, they hop on a passing dog or human.

Even though Lyme disease is a growing concern, Hopson stressed it's not a panic situation if you find a tick on your pet.

"Just because your dog gets a tick, doesn't mean it's going to get clinical Lyme disease," she said. "Fewer than five per cent of dogs right now that are infected with borrelia develop clinical signs. And if they do, they do usually recover with treatment."

Check for ticks daily

Veterinarians advise people that a daily check for ticks is helpful, since it takes 36 to 48 hours for the bacteria to be transferred.

There are also a variety of tick prevention products available, if your dog is at a higher risk of exposure.

It used to be thought that the most common area for ticks was in high grass, but that's not the only spot.

"We do know that they live under the leaf layer in forest floors, so it's wooded areas that are probably the most dangerous," said Hopson.

As always, she advised a conversation with your vet is the best way to start taking precautions against ticks.

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