The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association has designated March as National Tick Awareness Month—and for good reason.
Ticks will be waking up soon (or are awake now)—and they are hungry.
A frost may wipe out garden plants but it won’t get rid of ticks. While some, like the black-legged tick (a.k.a. deer tick), can remain active across North America in temperatures above freezing, most ticks survive the cold by taking shelter in leaf litter and going dormant, much like how bears hibernate. Snow acts as insulation, further protecting them from the cold, enabling them to survive the winter until they reemerge in the spring and resume their usual activities – which includes feeding on the blood of others (yes, even pets and people!). They’re hungry!
Once the air temperatures rise above 4° Celsius (39° Fahrenheit), ticks will begin searching for (or, “questing”) a blood meal.
Both AccuWeather and The Weather Channel are predicting dry conditions and above-average temperatures across many areas of North America beginning in April. In particular, The Weather Channel is forecasting a warm April across the northern U.S., the Great Lakes region, western and northern New York, and northern New England, all of which means one thing: You can’t wait until summer to start tick prevention!
Waiting until summer leaves pets vulnerable to ticks and the diseases they spread, including Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, and ehrlichiosis.
To prevent ticks and the diseases they spread, here’s some important tick-protection information to share with your clients.
How Ticks Quest
As members of the arachnid family (which includes spiders, scorpions and mites), ticks cannot jump or fly – they crawl. Typically, they crawl to the tips of grasses and shrubs where they wait until a moving body (bird, wild animal, pet or person) brushes past, whereupon they let go of the vegetation and hitch a ride onto the passerby.
Species of Ticks That Pets Are Likely to Encounter
Although there are at least 15 species of ticks in North America, your pet is likely to encounter only a few of them. These include:
- The American dog tick: Widely found across Canada and the eastern U.S., the American dog tick gets its name from its preference to feed on domestic dogs.
- The lone star tick: Named for the silvery, star-shaped spot found on the backs of adult females, the lone star tick is widely found across the east, southeast and midwest areas of the U.S., and recent findings from the University of Alberta and University of New Brunswick suggest that the lone star tick is making its way into Canada.
- The black-legged tick: Found in wooded areas and along forest trails where they quest for white-tailed deer, the black-legged tick (a.k.a. deer tick) is widely distributed in Canada and the U.S., east of the Rocky Mountains, and in limited areas on the Pacific Coast from Oregon to Baja California and Mexico.
- The brown dog tick: More common in warm climates, the brown dog tick is one of the most widely distributed ticks in the world and is found across Canada and the U.S.
Tick Protection for Pets
There are many types of tick preventatives. Some are available over the counter. Others are available only through your veterinarian.
Topical preventatives (typically applied at the back of the neck) include Frontline® Plus, Bravecto® Topical Solution, and Advantix®. Chewable preventatives include NexGard® and Simparica®, as well as Bravecto® Chew. Your veterinarian can make specific recommendations to help you choose the right product for your pet.
Caution for Cat Owners
NEVER use a dog tick prevention product on a cat. Tick prevention products meant specifically for dogs can be toxic to cats and cause seizures. There are many tick-prevention products made specifically for cats. These range from over-the-counter powders and collars to prescription products available only through your veterinarian.
What to Do If You Find a Tick on Your Pet
If you find a tick on your pet, it needs to be removed. Here is how to do it.
Tweezers are needed to remove ticks and gloves are recommended to avoid acquiring a tick-borne disease. Wearing disposable gloves, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible. This reduces the chance of the tick’s body breaking away from its head, leaving the head in the skin. Pull the tick off with a steady, even pressure. Continue using steady pressure even if the tick does not release. It may take a minute or two of constant, slow pulling before it releases its grip.
There are also commercially available tick removal tools (e.g. Tick Twister®) – but be careful! Twisting or jerking the tick may cause the tick to break away leaving some of the mouth parts in the skin, which increases the risk of infection.
If you don’t have disposable gloves, shield your fingers with a tissue or paper towel. Infectious organisms from ticks may be contracted through breaks in the skin and contact with mucous membranes (e.g., by touching your eyes, nose, and mouth).
Home remedies such as touching the rear of a tick with a hot match, or applying petroleum jelly or grease, are not effective and not recommended. These techniques cause the tick to salivate, which increases the risk of infection.
After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. To be safe, wash your hands as well, even if you wore gloves.
You may wish to preserve the extracted tick in a container filled with rubbing alcohol. Label the bottle with the date and location (area where your pet may have picked up the tick). Contact your veterinarian to find out where the tick may be sent for identification. This will help your veterinarian (or physician) with a diagnosis if signs of a tick-borne disease appear.
Signs of Tick-Borne Diseases
While some signs of disease (like fever, depression and lethargy) are common to all the tick-borne diseases, other signs are disease specific.
The disease, anaplasmosis, for example, may be accompanied by a fever, which is the same for Rocky Mountain spotted fever, another tick-borne disease. Yet anaplasmosis may cause seizures while Rocky Mountain spotted fever does not.
If you observe your pet displaying signs of illness or unusual behavior, think about checking your pet for a tick! Whether you find a tick or not, your veterinarian may recommend that you have your pet tested for tick-borne disease.
For more information about ticks, signs of tick-borne disease, and tick removal, visit the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s newly launched tick awareness website Tick Talk.