Tick Talk

May 15, 2024
Tick Talk

Article written by Judie Amyot for The Suburban

For the 12 years I had my late pup, Donny, there was a spring ritual that involved a trip to the veterinarian, with him yelping all the way, to have an annual exam and the administration of anti-tick, flea, and heart worm medications. They would be given monthly starting in May and ending in November. While he hated going to the vet, he did enjoy the beef flavoured medication “treats” and wolfed them down willingly. However, I do recall the veterinarian saying years ago that with warmer winters, it was inevitable that these meds would eventually be prescribed year round. That time has come.

Traditionally, during the bitterly cold winters we used to have, these parasites would go into hibernation and not present a threat to our pets when they were outdoors. Now, there is a good chance of infection all year long, thus the need to dose our pets for a full 12 months. While most pet owners know about fleas, many are not educated on the other main external parasites posing a risk to our pets -ticks.

Like fleas, ticks feed on the blood of their host animal and they like a variety of hosts such as dogs, cats, rodents, rabbits, cattle, and other small mammals. While dogs are the most common pet to get ticks, all outdoor pets are at risk.

Ticks become active when the temperature reaches 4 degrees Celsius or warmer but can awaken from their winter slumber even earlier. They are larger than fleas and visible to the naked eye and are commonly found in wooded areas and tall grass but can be anywhere vegetation exists. Ticks prefer to stay close to the head, neck, feet, and ears and their bites are not usually painful. There are a few different types of ticks that are cause for concern, but the deer tick is the one we should worry the most about. This tick is the one that can carry and potentially infect you and your pet with Lyme disease.

There are multiple other parasites and diseases that ticks can carry as well, which is why it is crucial that they be removed from your pet as quickly as possible. It can take several hours for an attached tick to transmit disease so in most cases removing a tick soon after they bite will usually prevent any disease in your pet. Check your pet regularly.

Once discovered, the tick needs to be removed immediately but care must be taken to not leave the head in the animal as it could abscess and cause infection. And any contact with the tick’s blood could potentially transmit disease to your dog or you. Safe removal is best done at your vet’s clinic, however if you want to do it at home, you can pluck it out with tweezers or better yet, a tool called a tick twister, a safer choice, which you can get from your vet. Get the tweezers as close to your dog’s skin as possible and pull out in a steady, straight motion.

The tick, either dead or alive, should then be brought to your vet clinic to be tested in a lab for any sign of disease. If the results are positive, your vet will contact you to determine what, if anything, needs to be done. Fortunately, when my Donny was found to have a tick, his lab tests came back negative for Lyme disease. While awaiting the results, I was told to watch for lameness, fever, fatigue/lethargy, loss of appetite, joint swelling, and swollen lymph nodes. Left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to damage of the kidneys, nervous system, and heart. Antibiotics are given to treat this disease and recovery usually occurs within four weeks.

Avoiding tick-borne diseases in the first place by asking your veterinarian for the appropriate preventative medication is your best line of defence. May you and your pets enjoy the warm weather in safety!

Judie Amyot is a volunteer with Animatch, a non-profit dog adoption service. For more information, visit www.animatch.ca