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Tick Season - 5 things you should know to protect your family and pets

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

It’s suddenly warm in Toronto, and if you are a new dog owner there are things that you need to know regarding tick-borne diseases including Lyme disease. In fact, an owner sent us an email with a photo of a tick she pulled off her dog. Get informed!

1. Tick Activity

With climate change, as well as movement in deer populations, ticks are becoming more common in our northern country of Canada. In the winter, it may be cold, and yes, some of the ticks will die, but there are ticks on animal reservoirs such as deer. Yes, there are deer in Toronto. I saw one crossing the Lake Shore last fall. However, spring and fall are the most active seasons for ticks. Typically, once the snow melts and the temperature is above 4 degrees Celsius, your pets may be more active outside, and so are those creepy-crawly friends. March is when we start pulling the first ticks off of dogs, and we are still pulling them off at the end of November. So guess what, the ticks are active now!

2. Tick-Borne Diseases

In South Western Ontario, including Toronto, there are a number of tick-borne disease. Lyme is the one that people are most concerned about, but there are Ehrlichia and Anaplasma species in the ticks as well. Check out the map to see the areas where Lyme is most prevalent. Approximately 90% of dogs that test positive for Lyme, do not show any clinical signs of disease, however, 10% of dogs can become very ill. If you can recall from my previous post, Lyme disease is an immune-mediated condition. You may see joint disease or kidney disease when the antigen-antibody complexes block the tiny vessels in this areas of the body. Ehrlichia and Anasplasma are similar and are obligate intra-cellular microbes that infect white blood cells. You may notice fever, reduced appetite and energy, and immune-mediated thrombocytopenia - or drop in platelets can occur. These would be signs to watch for in the early stages.

3. Tick Preventative Measures

Finding the tick and removing it within the first 24 hours is the best way to control Lyme disease. But, sometimes they are too small to find. Which is usually why we recommend tick protection. There are several products out there. The once monthly products are a bit more effective compared to the once every 3 months, as the third month's efficacy drops to around 80% for the Lone Star Tick. So keep that in mind when you are choosing a tick protection medication. Update April 10, 2020: Call your veterinarian's office to arrange for tick prevention. As long as you have a valid VCPR they can prescribe over the phone. Additionally, you may have to remove a tick on your own. If you have a dog that tends to go off-leash, or you walk in wooded areas, or live on a ravine, you may wish to purchase a tick removing tool.

4. Post-Exposure Testing

Lyme disease is complicated. Of the dogs that test positive for Lyme, we cannot predict which ones will develop Lyme arthropathy (arthritis) or Lyme nephropathy (kidney disease). After a tick bite, it is recommended to have a blood sample tested for tick-borne diseases in 4 to 6 weeks.

5. Monitoring if a Positive Test Occurs

The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine published an updated consensus statement in 2016 regarding the testing and treatment for Lyme disease in dogs and cats. Published in 2018 here. Pet owners should monitor for any limping or lameness, swelling of feet or joints, or fever. Additionally, having a urine sample monitored for protein loss in the urine is another tool your veterinarian may recommend. Again, 90% of dogs that test positive for Lyme, don't get sick. However, the ones that do can become severely ill. Ensuring your dogs (and outdoor cats) are on preventatives will help protect your family from the devastating tick-borne disease.

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