Everywhere you turn now, someone is talking about Lyme disease and the increasing risks of tick bites as our climate pattern changes. We’re also learning new facts about ticks as more research is being done into transmission of this and other tick-borne diseases.

      Let’s look at some of the basics first– There are several types of ticks, including the American dog tick, the brown dog tick, and the Deer, or black-legged tick.  Ticks are not really insects, but are more related to spiders and mites.  Female ticks must bite and have a blood meal in order to lay eggs (up to 6000!!). Male ticks die soon after mating. When the egg hatches, a ‘seed tick’ or larva emerges, finds a host, then molts into a nymph. This repeats several times until the tick is a mature adult, ready to complete the cycle. Ticks are very well-adapted parasites, and most hosts don’t even know they’re there. Some new things that have come to light, or are now being highlighted….

1)  Ticks can start to look for a host at 2C, and as long as there are holes in the snow cover, they don’t need complete melts to start ‘questing’. With the temperature variation and thaw cycles we’ve had in past winters, that means most months of the year can be considered at risk for tick transmission. It won’t be long before some dogs may have to be on tick protection for all 12 months of the year.

2)  There are some ticks that like to live in leaf and compost litter, and don’t require longer stalks of grass and shrubs to wait for a host to ‘brush by’. Some tick species will also walk on your lawn looking for a meal, so just having your dog on short grass is not a guarantee of lowered risk.

3)  Ticks carry other diseases besides Lyme disease, including the Lone Star Tick (seen increasingly northward) that injects a protein that tricks your immune system into an allergic reaction to some types of red meat! Wouldn’t that ruin your summer barbeque season!

4)   Our clinic statistics this spring so far have found four dogs exposed to tick bites that have resulted in infections that cause them to be positive in our blood tests: 2 dogs with Lyme disease exposure, and 2 dogs that were exposed to Ehrlichia, another bacterial disease transmitted by ticks…

5)   The rapid spread of ticks is being blamed on climate change, bird migration, and increases in the range of the white-footed mouse, the preferred host of the nymph tick, so small so that it can be easily missed, and more likely than the larger adult tick to carry disease. This is often why, when a dog shows up positive on our blood test, the owner has never seen or found a tick.

6)  Cats can also acquire ticks—we now have a liquid topical product with a claim against ticks!

    The best approach to tick control is prevention and vigilance. If you and/or your dog walk in fields, forests and other areas where grass and shrubs might provide cover for ticks, check for ticks regularly. Have your dog tested, and use a product based on the expected risk for your dog. Ask us which one is best for your pet!

Dr. Kevin Belbeck

Sauble Beach Pet Hospital