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The Ticks are Here!

The days are getting longer, warmer and sunnier! Tis the season for outdoor adventures with your furry companion. Yay! Unfortunately, this is also the time of year when we start seeing a lot of ticks on pets that are spending time outdoors on Vancouver Island. Whether you have an indoor-outdoor kitty, or a dog that goes on hikes… even a dog who you take on strolls around town, your pet is at risk of acquiring a tick or two (or many).



Why are we concerned about ticks on Vancouver Island?

It seems as though we are starting to see more and more ticks here. This is likely in part to milder winters and other changes in the climate. This year, we started seeing ticks on pets in January – and over the last couple of weeks we are seeing MANY! Ticks are said to be active when the outside temperature is above 4⁰C, so perhaps it is no surprise that they are out and about.


Ticks can be carriers of several bloodborne diseases – the most known one being Lyme Disease, which is caused by the bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. Ticks can also carry organisms that cause Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Over the last couple of years, we have had several very ill patients at our hospital test positive for Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis. Most of these dogs were rescues from Southern USA, Mexico and Costa Rica – however, we have had two cases of dogs with Anaplasmosis who had no history of travel off of Vancouver Island!!


A study was conducted from 2019 to 2020 where veterinarians on Vancouver Island submitted ticks that were removed from dogs and cats. The ticks were submitted for testing to see if they were potential carriers of Lyme Disease. Most of these ticks (82%) were removed from dogs. Because cats are fastidious groomers, we generally seem to find more ticks on dogs than on cats. All of the ticks that were submitted were Black-Legged Ticks or Deer Ticks (Ixodes scapularis), and 11% of them tested positive for the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria which is known to cause Lyme Disease. In North America, there seems to be a trend that Lyme Disease is becoming more common in both dogs and humans.


Ticks tend to be heaviest in areas where there is grass or brush – where we live, this still includes in town… not just "in the wilderness"!


Image Courtesy of CDC Website (https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/transmission/blacklegged.html)



How are Tickborne Diseases Transmitted?

Ticks carry parasites like Borrelia in their saliva. To transmit them to a host like a dog or human, they must be “attached” for a minimum of 24 hours. The Ixodes ticks on the Island can be transported by a wide range of wildlife species such as birds, rabbits and other rodents, deer, and even the Northern Alligator Lizard.



Image Courtesy of CDC Website (https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/transmission/blacklegged.html)



What are the Symptoms?

We are fortunate that the incidence of Lyme Disease is rare on Vancouver Island – but here are the symptoms to watch for in dogs: lethargy, fever, inappetence, stiffness, lameness or limping, swollen joints and swollen lymph nodes. If left undetected, Lyme Disease can also lead to severe kidney disease.


Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis can present in a similar manner. Both of these infections can lead to lethargy, fever and inappetence, as well as anemia and bleeding disorders and bruising caused by low platelets in the blood (thrombocytopenia).


Signs of disease can take months to show up after a tick has transmitted them, and some pet owners with affected pets have never actually found the offending tick. This means that it is important to watch for the above-listed symptoms even if you have never found a tick on your pet.


What can you do?

1) INSPECT AND REMOVE: Inspect your pet daily – if you find a tick, remove it! One of our favorite tick removal tools is called a TICK TWISTER. These little plastic devices make tick removal very easy and make it more likely that the whole tick will be removed without leaving the head behind. After the tick is removed, clean the area with an antibacterial soap. Monitor for signs of infection – if you notice swelling or discharge in the area, contact your veterinarian.


TIPS:

  • Do not try to kill the tick before removing it

  • Do not apply any product (alcohol, soap or essential oils) to try to get the tick to "back out on its own"

  • Killing or agitating the tick prior to removal may increase the likelihood of the tick expelling its saliva into your pet!


Most of the time, ticks like to embed themselves in areas on body that have a thinner hair coat – this includes around the eyes, ears and muzzle, as well as the belly and nether regions of the animal. The nymph stages of the tick can be very small (the size of a poppy seed!), so look carefully.


If you are too freaked out to remove a tick from your pet on your own, we get it! Contact your veterinarian for help.



2) TICK PREVENTATIVE MEDICATIONS: There are multiple medications available from your veterinarian to help prevent ticks – please speak with your vet about the best option for your pet. Each pet is going to have a different level of risk and different health status, therefore, the recommendations will vary. *Please note that animals must be up-to-date on their annual wellness visit for the veterinarian to dispense any prescription medications, this includes prescription parasite preventative medications.


There are some natural products (ex. sprays, lotions, oils) that claim to prevent ticks – some of these may help, but note that some are not safe! Of the safe products available,

some can only be used on dogs, and can be very harmful if applied to a cat!


At our hospital, we carry Dr. Harvey’s Protection Spray, which is an organic preventative spray for dogs that contains a blend of essential oils in a witch hazel base. It can be helpful in repelling ticks when your dog is outside but needs to be applied frequently to work well.


There are over-the-counter tick prevention products that you may find at a pet or feed store as well. Many of these will not work… and some of them can be dangerous if directions are not followed carefully! For example, there are some products that are made for dogs that can cause seizures or even death if they are put on a cat! Please be careful – and don’t hesitate to speak with your veterinarian if you are not sure if a product is safe for you pet!


3) LYME VACCINE FOR DOGS: Dogs that are at high risk, especially those who will be travelling to areas where there is a high prevalence of Lyme may be candidates for being vaccinated against Lyme Disease. Please speak with your veterinarian to see if your dog should have a Lyme Vaccine.


4) IMPORTED RESCUE PETS: If you are planning to, or already have adopted a pet from out of country, please talk to your veterinarian about testing the pet for tickborne diseases. Some rescue organizations test animals before adopting them out… however, we are seeing increasing numbers of dogs that have not been tested before they arrive in Canada who are positive for Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis and Heartworm. These are all diseases that can be treated medically if caught early, however we are much more likely to be able to treat successfully if we catch the disease before the pet is really sick!


5) TESTING: If you find a tick on your pet, your veterinarian can submit it to the laboratory to test it for Lyme Disease.


If you have found ticks on your pet, or if you or your vet is concerned that your pet may have a tickborne disease, there are several blood tests (ex. 4DX test, PCR testing) that can be done to determine if they have been exposed or infected. Please speak with your veterinarian for more information.



Well, we could probably talk all day about ticks... as you can see they are an important topic! If you are a client of Qualicum Beach Animal Hospital, please come in to get your FREE TICK TWISTER, and allow our staff to you help you with any questions that you may have!


Happy tails and happy trails,

The QBAH Team



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