Just a few years ago, we barely thought about ticks in Toronto around Etobicoke and suburbs like Brampton. But now, these parasites are becoming more common throughout southern Ontario and other parts of Canada. Each year, ticks continue to expand into new areas and move farther north.
Let’s take a look at ticks and the risks they pose to our pets—and to us.
Taking Stock of Ticks
Ticks are small arachnids related to mites and spiders that feed on the blood of people and a variety of other animals (including dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents, deer, horses, and coyotes), as well as birds and even lizards.
There are almost 900 tick species in the world, with about 40 tick species in Canada. Fortunately, only a few of these ticks pose a danger to pets and people. The main ticks we’re finding in southern Ontario are deer (black-legged) ticks, but we also have American dog ticks and brown dog ticks in the Toronto area.
Other ticks that feed on pets and people include the Western black-legged tick (which is typically found on the Pacific Coast), Lone star tick, and Rocky Mountain wood tick. If you travel, you might encounter these ticks.
Besides being disgusting blood-sucking creatures, ticks can also transmit serious illnesses, including Lyme disease, to both pets and people. These diseases can cause lasting health issues, especially if they aren’t treated quickly.
Symptoms of Tickborne Diseases
If you find a tick attached to your pet (or even if you don’t), let us know right away if you notice any of these signs of tick-transmitted diseases:
- Lameness (which may shift from one leg to another)
- Loss of appetite or weight
- Swollen or painful joints
- Weakness or fatigue
- Vomiting or diarrhea
In next month’s blog post, we’ll be talking about the specific diseases and parasites that ticks (and fleas) can carry.
Debunking Tick Myths
Despite popular misconceptions, ticks aren’t just active in warmer months, they don’t fall from trees, and they can’t be killed by covering them with petroleum jelly. Here are some tick truths:
Ticks ARE active in winter.
Whenever the temperature is above freezing, ticks may be active. In the city of Toronto and the suburbs, it never stays cold enough throughout winter to keep ticks from searching for a meal.
Ticks DON’T die off when it snows.
Not only does the temperature have to stay close to or below freezing for an extended period before ticks aren’t a threat, but ticks can survive under snow!
Ticks climb UP from grass or shrubs.
When ticks look for hosts to feed on, many of them “quest” by climbing up a blade of grass or low shrub and reach out with their front legs. That way, they can grab and climb onto a pet or person who brushes by. Black-legged ticks are found in grassy and wooded areas, including many parks in the area, such as High Park, Pine Point Park, and Humberwood Park, as well as Centre Island.
Ticks can be hard to spot, especially in your pet’s fur. Adult deer ticks are only about the size of a sesame seed!
Ticks DON’T always attach right away.
Some ticks spend time searching for just the right spot on your pet (or you) before latching on and feeding. Others quickly dig in. Either way, it’s wise to always check your pet and yourself for ticks after spending time outside.
Removing a Tick
Many myths exist about how to remove a tick. Despite what you may have heard, please:
- DO NOT apply nail polish, petroleum jelly, or liquid soap to the tick in an attempt to “suffocate” it.
- DO NOT yank the attached tick off with your fingers.
- DO NOT try to burn the tick off.
If you find a tick feeding on your pet (or yourself or another family member), you’ll want to:
- Not panic.
- Either use tweezers (fine-tipped, ideally) or a tick removal tool.
- Using the tweezers or tool, grasp the tick as close as possible to the skin where it’s attached (near the mouthparts, not around the body).
- Pull firmly but gently straight out. Don’t twist!
- Place the tick in a sealed baggie or container (such as a used pill bottle). You can also tape the tick to a dated index card or date the baggie or container if you want to send the tick for identification (keep reading for more on that). Alternatively, you can simply throw it in the trash once the tick is secured in a baggie or under tape.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
Never touch a tick with bare fingers; if possible, use gloves to avoid coming in contact with disease-causing pathogens that the tick may be carrying.
Found a Tick on Your Pet?
In addition to letting us know about the tick, you can take part in an ongoing study. Researchers at the Ontario Veterinary College and Atlantic Veterinary College are collecting ticks from dogs and cats through the end of March. They’re identifying tick species and testing for tick-borne diseases to better understand the risks that these parasites pose to our pets.
If you find a tick on your dog or cat, you can submit information about it here: Pet Tick Tracker. The site also provides instructions for sending in the tick, if you’d like.
If you find a tick on yourself or another human family member, click here instead.
The Bottom Line
Ticks are a risk in our area. Call us today to make sure your pet is protected. At Tej Dhaliwal Veterinary Group, we want to help keep our patients safe, especially against preventable problems, like ticks and the diseases they can cause.
- Pets and Ticks. Ticks: the basics. https://www.petsandticks.com/ticks-the-basics
- Pets and Ticks. Tick identification. https://www.petsandticks.com/tick-identification
- Pets and Ticks. Tick removal. https://www.petsandticks.com/tick-removal
- CanLyme (Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation) Tick ID. https://canlyme.com/lyme-basics/tick-id/
- org. Top ten things everyone should know about ticks these days. https://tickencounter.org/prevention/top_ten_things_list
All accessed February 27, 2020.