Ticks Toc. There was a time, a long time, when Toronto was gloriously free of the little Lyme disease-causing little jerks. But that time has faded and black legged ticks carrying Lyme disease have been found in several areas across Toronto.
This isn’t to alarm you. Lyme disease is still mercifully rare in town. Consider this merely an alert. Lyme disease is not fun. Our long-time client and all-star vet Bev Bateman at Eglinton Veterinary Facilities can attest to its nastiness herself. She was diagnosed with Lyme disease (actually she cleverly diagnosed herself) several years ago before it threatened to force her to stop work. We’d really like to thank her for helping guide us with some thoughts for this article. There isn’t a test for people in Canada, unfortunately, and this can make it difficult to catch quickly. Because she was able to diagnose herself, she’s thankfully active and co-running her wonderful practice. She was not infected in Toronto and we truly hope that with a little awareness, nobody is in the future and nor are your dogs.
The good news for dogs is that there is a test. And it’s dogs, of course, that we’ll focus on here.
You’ll see in the news that there is a list of parks in Toronto in which ticks have been found. The immediate response is to avoid those parks. But the truth is that these little devils have migrated, quite uninvited, from the upper United States where they have largely and miraculously respected the border previously. Once they’ve made their way into an area, they can hitch a ride on squirrels, raccoons, birds and yes, even dogs. It’s really best to arm yourself with a little knowledge. And here it is, a little knowledge:
- Long grasses, beaches and wooded areas are most likely to harbor ticks (they like the same real estate we do)
- There are some findings in Toronto, but they are still relatively infrequent
- The surrounding areas, especially as we city folk start to migrate to the country in the summer are more likely to be host to ticks
- Ticks don’t fly or jump. They can only crawl. Creepy bastards.
- Once a tick is infected with Borrelia, it remains a carrier until it dies – something we’d encourage it to do quickly
- Only 5-10% of dogs found to be infected with Lyme are ever actually symptomatic
- While we dog owners have traditionally embarked on flea and tick from Spring to Fall, the mild and unpredictable winter we had is prompting some vets, including John Reeve-Newson of the Animal Clinic, to recommend year-round protection as something you may want to consider
- After a romp out in a long-grassed or wooded area, check your dog over
- Comb through your dog regularly to check
- You probably won’t see the tell-tale, generally circular skin rash on your dog, so be aware of symptoms
- Symptoms for dogs are similar to those in humans: lethargy, arthritis (often shown in shifting from foot to foot and lameness), fever, lack of appetite, fatigue, neurological problems and kidney damage. Nice, huh?
- Young ticks are most active in the spring
- Your vet has access to a reliable blood test. So if your vet suggests testing for Lyme, it’s a good idea
- Dogs can be vaccinated against Lyme disease; it’s a relatively new vaccine though. If you’re planning on being out of town with your dog and are worried that it may be a high risk area for ticks, call the local vet and ask what about their practice for defence
- Like Dr. Reeve-Newson, Dr. Lindsay Patterson of Rosedale-Moore Park Vet suggests you talk to your vet about Bravecto an every-three-month chewable tablet that kills black-legged ticks and will defend your household from a carrier that drops off your dog and climbs onto you or your family.
How to you remove a tick? What do you do with the little freak?
If you find a tick on your dog, you’ll want to get some rubber gloves and some fine-tipped tweezers. Don’t squeeze or burn it off.
- Grab it as close to the skin as possible; then pull the tick away from your dog’s skin gently but firmly. Make sure you’ve got the whole thing; anything left behind could lead to an infection.
- Clean the skin with an antiseptic. Clean the tweezers and your hands thoroughly, too.
- Give Rover a treat. He earned it.
- Take a photo of the area and monitor it for continued irritation or infection.
We hope this leaves you ticked-off . . . uh . . . you know what we mean.