March is National Tick Awareness Month: Get the latest on tick-borne diseases in Manitoba

Written by Amanda Dyck, Registered Animal Health Technologist

Ticks are more than an unpleasant nuisance. They are small, bloodsucking parasites that can carry a multitude of dangerous diseases – diseases that can be transmitted to pets and humans. Prevention is the best way to protect your pet against tick-borne diseases.

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association has declared March to be National Tick Awareness Month, this is because March is often when the temperature starts warming up and tick prevention methods should be implemented.

Ticks can be found anywhere, from the deep woods to your very own backyard. And each year, thousands of pets become infected with serious diseases transmitted by a number of different types of ticks. Diseases like Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis and others.


3 things ticks don’t want you to know…

·      They are becoming more prevalent in Manitoba due to migratory birds.

·      They start looking for a blood meal at 4°C.

·      The best time to start protecting your pet is BEFORE exposure.


The diseases that many ticks carry are known as vector-borne diseases. This means the tick (the vector) must feed on an infected vertebrate (eg. bird, rodent, other larger mammal or human), and then pass the microbe to a susceptible animal or human. The risks ticks may pose to your pet can be minimized with preventative measures (topical medications, oral medications, etc.), and annual physical exams, which include a quick blood test (IDEXX 4Dx Snap Test) to screen for vector-borne diseases.  This simple blood test is extremely important because symptoms of these vector-borne diseases are often vague, and difficult to recognize. Because of this, many pet owners don’t know their pet is suffering from a debilitating tick disease until it’s too late to treat.

Figure 1: Canine Vector-Borne Disease Prevalence Map for Winnipeg area (IDEXX Laboratories, 2016).

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi that may be transmitted by the deer tick or the western black-legged tick. This disease can infect our pets (most commonly dogs, cats, and horses) and humans. Lyme disease is an infection of the body tissues, and often leads to lameness. The complicated thing about Lyme disease is that the symptoms can often take several months to develop after infection, and even after the symptoms develop they can come and go, making diagnosis very difficult in both pets and humans. The most common symptoms seen with this disease in our pets are stiffness of limbs and joints, fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite.

For our canine friends there is a vaccine against Lyme disease that can prevent infection, this vaccine is highly recommended for animals living or visiting tick-infested areas. Make an appointment to speak with one of our veterinarians to decide if this vaccine would benefit your dog. 

Figure 2: The life cycle of a Deer Tick (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015)

What is Ehrlichiosis? [ur-lik-ee-oh-sis]

Ehrlichiosis has a couple different forms, and can infect dogs, cats (rarely), and humans. The brown dog tick may transmit the bacteria Ehrlichia canis, and the lone star tick may transmit Ehrlichia ewingii and/or Ehrlichia chaffeensis. This disease is an infection of the white blood cells, and often leads to decreased bone marrow function. Like Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis is also very hard to diagnose due to its vague symptoms and lengthy onset. The most common symptoms seen with this disease in our pets are stiffness of joints and limbs, loss of appetite, spontaneous nosebleeds or bruising, and lethargy.

There is no vaccine for this disease at this time, but tick preventatives can greatly decrease the risk for your pets.

What is Anaplasmosis? [an-uh-plaz-moh-sis]

Anaplasmosis also has a couple different forms, and can infect dogs, cats (rarely), horses, and humans. The deer tick and the western black-legged tick may transmit the bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum, and the brown dog tick may transmit Anaplasma platys. This disease is an infection of the white blood cells or platelets. Like the previous vector-borne diseases, anaplasmosis is also very hard to diagnose due to its vague symptoms and lengthy onset. The most common symptoms seen with this disease in our pets are stiffness of joints and limbs, loss of appetite, neck pain, neurological signs, spontaneous nosebleeds or bruising, and lethargy.

There is no vaccine for this disease at this time, but tick preventatives can greatly decrease the risk for your pets.

What should I do if I find a tick on my pet?

Removing ticks from your pet (or even yourself) needs to be done delicately to ensure removal of all parts of the tick. Follow the removal steps below or give us a call to make an appointment to bring your pet into Central Veterinary Services to see one of our veterinary technicians. Our veterinary technicians can safely perform the task, and can even show you how to do it yourself for in the future!

Step 1: Put on gloves (medical latex or nitrile gloves recommended) to protect yourself.

Step 2: Grasp tick very close to the skin with a pair of fine-tipped tweezers or a tick remover.

Step 3: With one steady motion, pull the tick’s body away from the skin and hold there until you feel the tick release.

Step 4: After removal clean the attachment area using soap and water and dispose of the tick by placing it in a covered container with alcohol (allows you to show your veterinarian so that the tick species can be identified), or flush it down the toilet.

What preventative products does Central Veterinary Services offer for ticks, and what are the differences between the products?

Central Veterinary Services 2016 Tick Prevention Products

References:

1. IDEXX Laboratories 2016, Canine Vector-Borne Disease Prevalence Map (for Winnipeg area), digital image of map, Dogs and Ticks, accessed 18 March 2016, <http://www.dogsandticks.com/diseases_in_your_area.php>

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2015, The life cycle of a Deer Tick, digital image, CDC website, accessed 18 March 2016, <http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/transmission/index.html>