Ticked off: Keep your pets away from tiny tick torment

If Islanders think they have Lyme disease submit the tick, says Health PEI

It used to be summer when people really started thinking about ticks and how to prevent their dogs from being bitten, but now that is changing.

Ticks are something people need to think about year round. Not just for their dogs but for themselves too said Pets and People columnist Dr. Marti Hopson, who has been doing some research on the topic.

"We used to think ticks were more along the same lines as fleas and heartworm, that we needed warm weather to have them, but research now shows us ticks can be active anytime the weather is over four degrees celsius."

Keeping dogs safe from ticks and possibly Lyme disease is important year-round now, said Hopson.

"The one we mostly worry about is the black legged tick, or deer ticks."

Hopson said deer ticks can survive off any warm blooded animals, mammals or birds.

Carrying Lyme disease

"Lyme disease is not caused by the tick itself, but by a bacteria called borrelia and that lives inside the tick."

She is seeing an increase in ticks being positive for the bacteria, and there have been ticks on the Island testing positive, Hopson said.

These preventative products are highly effective, but nothing is 100 per cent guaranteed. — Dr. Marti Hopson

"We do see ticks over wintering and also being positive for that bacteria."

With climate change and other factors, the range of ticks is expanding north at about 15 to 30 kilometres a year, said Hopson.

"I do want to stress people shouldn't be terribly alarmed by this."

If your dog does get a tick attached to it, it doesn't automatically mean your dog will get sick, Hopson said.

"Even the dogs that are positive for exposure, only about five per cent develop clinical signs and if they do there is treatment available, although like people Lyme disease can become a chronic issue."

The problem is, veterinarians are not sure what dogs will develop the disease or not, so prevention is key. A major part of that is checking your dog thoroughly after they have been outside, said Hopson. 

"You have to go over your dog, all the way down the legs, between the toes, under the ears, under the collar, in the groin and check for ticks. An adult tick could be the size of a sesame seed. They are very small."

Once you find the tick you want to take a pair of tweezers get close to the skin and lift the tick out being careful not to crush it or leave pieces behind, said Hopson.

Using alcohol is not recommended, as it could irritate and create the potential of an infection, said Hopson.

"It's best just to remove it as quickly as possible."

Cats are resistant

Cats can also get ticks, but they seem resistant to the disease, said Hopson. 

"In all the research I have done for this, so far there has not been a single reported and confirmed case of Lyme disease in a cat occurring naturally."

There are lots of preventative medications for dogs who might be in tick populated areas, said Hopson.

"Some are topical that go on the back of the neck, other ones are tablets that you give once a month or once every three months. These preventative products are highly effective, but nothing is 100 per cent guaranteed."

However, be careful and consult your vet if you have both a cat and a dog — some tick medications are safe for dogs, but toxic to cats.

If you think your dog has Lyme disease, you can get a blood test to check for exposure to the bacteria, said Hopson.

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