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Dr. Ian Cameron on Ticks, Your Pet, and You

Ticks are one of the most unobtrusive yet deadly killers out there, and are continuously overlooked in terms of treatment and prevention in the medical community. While greater attention is paid to the infestation of ticks on animals such as dogs and cats, they are a risk to humans as well. This is something not many people consider, especially pet owners. 

What exactly are ticks?

Ticks are very small arachnids that are classified under the same scientific category as spiders. While there only two families of ticks, hard ticks and soft ticks, there are over 800 different species among these two families. These arachnids are unable to jump or fly and instead simply crawl to their destination. They survive off of blood meals, which is why one of the most obvious symptom that a human or animal has ticks is a tick bite.

There’s a common belief that Canadians are not at as great of risk for the harmful consequences ticks than those living in southern, warmer climates. Unfortunately, this is not the case. According to Dr. Ian Cameron, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Westboro Animal Hospital, both individuals and animals living in Canada, and Ottawa especially, are at high-risk for tick manifestation. This is due to two major things: Canadian Geese and the damp climate of the Ottawa Valley.

Canadian Geese are notorious for bringing ticks up to Canada from the south after their winter migration. This issue has become so severe that new species of ticks are appearing throughout Canada that have been traced back to southern states and climates. Dr. Cameron warns Canadians of the rise of the Lonestar Tick, that has quickly migrated its’ way up to the great white north all the way from Texas.

Located amongst three major rivers, lots of swamps and an abundance of undeveloped land, the Ottawa Valley is a hot house for ticks. They love moist, damp conditions, which is why it is no surprise that dogs living in rural areas are at greater risk for ticks, but this does not mean all others are safe. According to Dr. Cameron, even dogs living in more populated areas that spend majority of their time indoors, only venturing into their own backyards are still prone to ticks thanks to the Canadian Geese that fly over urban areas and drop them down as they go by.

How to Spot a Tick

The most obvious sign that you or your pet has ticks is scratching.  If one particular area is itchy, check the area to see signs of a tick bite. The most obvious sign is a red ring surrounding the bite– this applies to both humans and those with fur.

Ticks are generally easy to spot despite their size. While you may not be able to identify the exact type of tick, you can clearly identify whether it’s a tick at all. They either have 6 or 8 legs, depending on what stage of life they are currently in. All ticks are anywhere from two to ten millimeters long, and their body shape ranges depending on their species. While most ticks are oval, some species are more round or tear-dropped shaped. Prior to feeding, ticks can be identified as small flat ovals, but after a blood meal their bodies appear more plump and circular, as though they have been inflated.

What to do after spotting a tick

According to Dr. Cameron, the best thing to do after spotting a tick, whether it be on an animal or human is to remove it yourself. Avoid using tweezers when doing so, as this can break the tick into several pieces and only make a mess. Instead, your best bet is to invest in a tick twister to gently remove the tick from the surface. After discovering the presence of ticks, wait 4-6 weeks prior to doing further tests to see if the ticks spread any harmful diseases during manifesting. Testing before waiting at least 4 weeks is what Dr. Cameron refers to as ‘false positives’, as the tests are guaranteed to come back clear not because the tick actually didn’t spread anything during their presence, but rather because it has not been long enough for the potential resulting diseases to appear on blood tests.

What are the Potential Risks Ticks Can Carry With Them?

It is extremely common for ticks to transmit Lyme Disease through their bites, which is why it is crucial to do testing after finding them both on your pet and on yourself. Lyme disease is an inflammatory infection that appears in three different stages, the earliest stage in which the disease first infects its victim, the second stage in which the disease spreads, and the final stage in which the disease is pronounced chronic. Both treatment and diagnosis are most easily done during the first stage of Lyme Disease, which is why it is crucial to stay aware and alert of one’s state of health following a tick bite. The rate of Lyme Disease is increasing at an alarming rate in Canada, with 470 new cases reported in between 2014 and 2016. Of all of the cases of Lyme Disease reported throughout Canada in 2016, over 88% of them were from Ontario, proving how prevalent it is to our province.  While there is currently no vaccination for Lyme disease, it’s persistency and prosperity of infecting both humans and animals throughout Canada makes it an urgent matter that requires more medical attention than it currently receives.

Treatments for ticks

So what exactly can be done about the tick infestation that is only continuing to grow in Ottawa and throughout Canada? “Prevention is the best medicine” says Dr. Cameron. Preventing the occurrence of ticks manifesting on your animal or yourself is the easiest, and most efficient option currently existing. There are several steps you can take to help prevent the harmful effects that Ticks carry with them:

Performing routine checks on both yourself and pet is crucial immediately after exposure to tick-infested areas. Although this is not a sole solution to the problem, it is the first step in the right direction. Having an annual Lyme Disease test done on both you and your animal is extremely important, as mentioned before, Lyme Disease is not usually given the medical attention it requires. Prioritizing this blood test into your medical budget is a way to ensure both you and your animal remain healthy. Utilizing medicines such as Revolution Drops on your pet during the months of May through November is a great way to also prevent fleas, heartworm and even ear mites.

While ticks are virtually unavoidable, especially in the Ottawa Valley region, there are several measures you can take towards understanding exactly what ticks are, the risks associated with their presence and what to do in response. Educating yourself and the ones around you is the first step towards limiting the growing cases of Lyme Disease in Ontario. Ticks are silent killers, they’re difficult to spot unless you’re looking for them and there is limited public education on Ticks and their harmful risks associated with them. As repeated by Dr. Cameron endlessly, prevention truly is the best medicine.



By Julia Solimine

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