As the weather warms up and you begin spending more time outdoors with your pets, the last thing you may be thinking about is ticks. After all, it isn’t quite warm enough for ticks yet, is it? You may be surprised to learn that any season is tick season, as long as the temperature hits 4°C.
WHAT EXACTLY ARE TICKS?
Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of their host and are part of the arachnid family, related to spiders, mites, and even scorpions. They attach themselves to animals and humans by biting and burying their heads into the skin. Ticks can carry a variety of diseases that can be transmitted when an infected tick bites, Lyme Disease being the main tick-borne disease of concern in Canada.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can appear in dogs weeks or even months after a tick bite. Some signs to look for are:
- Loss of appetite
- Low energy
- Joint pain
If these symptoms aren’t caught and treated early, your dog can experience paralysis or even death.
Ticks don’t jump or fly, but crawl along the ground and hide out in dense vegetation, tall grass, weeds, or leaves, climbing up and resting on the tips of the plant while waiting for a host to walk by. Ticks can detect a host by sensing body heat and exhaled carbon dioxide from an unsuspecting passerby. When the host brushes by that spot, the tick quickly latches on and begins to feed.
THE TICK LIFE CYCLE
A tick’s lifespan is anywhere between two and three years. Its life cycle consists of four stages:
Female ticks are capable of laying thousands of eggs, typically in the spring. In order to mate and reproduce, a tick needs to completely detach from her host and then lays her eggs on the ground. Once the eggs have hatched, the ticks enter the larval stage.
At this point, the larvae, which are about the size of a grain of sand, require a blood meal. Tick larvae are born with six legs, and crawl around looking for a host. Once they’ve found their host, they crawl up and feed for two to three days before dropping back to the ground. The larvae mature, shedding their outer shell, a process known as molting, and emerge with eight legs, entering the nymph stage.
Nymphs look like smaller adults, about the size of a sesame seed, and as in the previous stages, finding a host to feed is important as it allows nymphs to mature to the final stage. Once fed, nymphs fall back to the ground for one final molt and emerge as mature adults, ready to find a host for another blood meal in order to reproduce, completing the life cycle.
Ticks bite during all active life stages. Male ticks will die after mating, but a female, with a lifespan of anywhere between two and three years, can repeat the lifecycle and lay more eggs before dying.
WHERE CAN THEY BE FOUND?
There are over 40 recognized species of ticks in Canada but only a few, such as the black-legged tick, can transmit Lyme Disease. They prefer shady, wooded areas, hiding in tall grasses, weeds, and under leaf litter but can also be found in urban parks and even your own back yard!
Although tick prevention is recommended all year round, tick season typically begins during the warmer seasons. However, some ticks are able to survive the winter hiding under snow and leaf litter and can be active once temperatures reach 4°C when they begin looking for a new host to feed on.
EXAMINING YOUR PET FOR TICKS
Whether you go for a hike in the woods or a leisurely walk in the park, it’s important to check both you and your pet regularly for ticks after spending time outdoors. Spotting and removing ticks right away helps protect you both by preventing the transmission of tick-borne diseases.
Run your fingers through your pet’s fur with gentle pressure to feel for any small bumps. Focus on the following areas:
- Head and ears (inside and out)
- Under the collar
- Between the toes
- Around the tail
- Under the front legs
- Between the back legs
The best way to protect your dog is to take preventative measures such as avoiding areas where ticks may be found, checking your pet for ticks after spending time outdoors, and using a monthly topical treatment such as K9 Praventa 360. In addition to repelling ticks, K9 Praventa 360 kills adult ticks on contact, so your dog doesn’t have to be bitten for the treatment to work.
Here are a few additional suggestions to keep yourself safe from tick bites too:
- Use insect repellent
- Wear light-coloured clothes, making it easier to spot ticks
- Wear close-toed shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and keep pants tucked into your socks, limiting access to your skin
- Stay on marked trails and cleared paths
- Shower as soon as you get home to check for ticks and remove any loose ticks promptly
It’s also important to keep your yard tick-free. Mow the lawn regularly and keep the yard free of leaf piles and litter. Use wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas – this acts as a barrier to prevent ticks from crossing into the yard. Stack woodpiles neatly in an area exposed to the sun.
If you find ticks on your pet or yourself, remove them immediately with tweezers. And don’t forget to perform a daily tick-check on the whole family.