Many pet owners don’t know that waiting until summer to start tick protection leaves pets vulnerable to Lyme disease. Tick activity is driven by temperature, not the seasons, and ticks begin seeking a blood meal when temperatures rise above 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit). To help protect more pets from Lyme disease, here is some important information to share with clients:
How Ticks Find Hosts
As members of the arachnid family (which includes spiders, mites, and scorpions), ticks cannot jump or fly. To find a blood meal, ticks crawl to the tips of grasses and shrubs and wait for a moving body (wild animal, bird, pet, or person) to brush past, whereupon they let go of the vegetation and hitch a ride on the passerby.
The Tick That Causes Lyme Disease
The black-legged tick (a.k.a. the deer tick) is the most common carrier of Lyme disease. Found in wooded areas and along forest trails where they wait for white-tailed deer, the black-legged tick is widely distributed in Canada and the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains, and along the Pacific Coast from Oregon to Baja California and Mexico. Black-legged ticks also transmit anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis.
Other Ticks That Pets May Encounter
The American dog tick: Widely found across Canada and U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains and in limited areas along the Pacific Coast, American dog ticks transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, ehrlichiosis in dogs, cytauxzoonosis in cats, and tularemia in humans (often referred to as rabbit fever, or hunter’s disease).
The lone star tick: Found across the east, southeast, and midwest regions of the U.S. and now making its way into parts of Canada, lone star ticks transmit ehrlichiosis in dogs, cytauxzoonosis in cats, and tularemia, heartland virus, and Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) in humans.
The brown dog tick: One of the most widely distributed ticks in the world, brown dog ticks are found across Canada and the U.S. and transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, ehrlichiosis, hepatozoonosis, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis.
Tick Protection for Pets
There are many types of tick preventives. Some are available over the counter. Others are only available through your veterinarian.
Topical preventives (typically applied on a pet’s skin and at the back of the neck) include Frontline® Plus, Bravecto® Topical Solution, and Advantix®. Chewable preventives include NexGard®, Simparica®, and Bravecto® Chew.
Your veterinarian can make specific recommendations and help you choose the right product for your pet.
Caution for Cat Owners
Never use a dog tick preventive product on a cat. Tick preventives meant specifically for dogs can be toxic to cats and cause seizures.
There are many tick preventives made specifically for cats. They 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. Follows these steps or contact your veterinarian for help:
- You’ll need tweezers or a tick removal tool and disposable gloves. Infectious bacteria can be passed through breaks in the skin (e.g. a paper cut or hangnail) simply by handling ticks.
- 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 and leaving the head in the skin. If you don’t have disposable gloves, shield your fingers with a tissue or paper towel.
- 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 a 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’re unable to remove the tick, contact your veterinarian.
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 a 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. Thoroughly 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 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 with a diagnosis if signs of a tick-borne disease appear.
Signs of Lyme Disease in Pets
Many dogs with Lyme disease are taken to a veterinarian because they have stopped eating, become lethargic, and appear to be sore all over. Affected dogs have been described as “walking on eggshells.” They may also begin to limp. This lameness often appears suddenly and may shift from one leg to another. If untreated, symptoms may subside—only to recur weeks or months later. A high fever is common with both forms of disease.
If infected with Lyme disease for a prolonged period, the disease can become widespread throughout the body. Lyme disease can affect the kidneys, causing vomiting, lethargy, lack of appetite, and weight loss. The kidney form of the disease is less common than the joint form but is often fatal.
Discuss tick preventives with your veterinarian and check your pet daily for ticks. If your pet is showing signs of Lyme disease, contact your veterinarian, who may recommend testing for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
For more information about ticks, signs of tick-borne diseases, and tick removal, visit the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s tick awareness website Tick Talk or speak with your veterinarian.
flea and tick, client communications