Ticks and your Pet
What are ticks?
Ticks are eight-legged parasites that have highly developed mouthparts. They bite to fasten themselves onto the skin and feed on blood. Ticks range in color from grey, brown, red and yellow. Unfed adult ticks can be as small as an apple seed. After attaching and feeding on your pet’s blood, they can increase in size and fully fed females will be round and can be as large as a grape.
Luckily, most ticks do not cause serious health problems. It is important to remove a tick as soon as possible to avoid potential infection or diseases and submit it for testing.
What diseases can ticks carry?
Ticks in Alberta can carry pathogens that may cause tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis. Tick-borne disease is currently not a major concern in Alberta, but it may become a bigger issue in the future- tick numbers are on the rise.
The most common species of ticks in Canada include blacklegged (or deer) ticks, American dog ticks, brown dog ticks, and lone star ticks. These ticks have the potential to carry diseases that can be transferred to your pet if they bite and feed long enough.
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in North America. Lyme disease can affect humans, wildlife, and domestic animals. Fortunately, in Alberta, the risk of being bitten by a blacklegged tick is low. The risk of being bitten by a blacklegged tick infected with B. burgdorferi, the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease is even lower.
Tick: Blacklegged (Deer) tick
Pathogen: Borrelia burgdorferi
Transmission time: as little as 24 hours
Symptoms: Infection can lead to lameness and reluctance to move due to inflammation in the joints, fever and sometimes more serious signs such as kidney disease.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever occurs in North, South, and Central America. It is widespread throughout the northeastern and eastern the United States, as well as east of Saskatchewan in Canada. Both people and pets can become infected with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever if they are bitten by an infected tick.
Tick: American dog tick, Lone star tick, Brown dog tick
Pathogen: Rickettsia rickettsii
Transmission time: as little as 5 hours
Symptoms: Infection can lead to non-specific symptoms such as poor appetite, non-specific muscle or joint pain, fever, coughing, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, swelling of the face or legs, or depression. History of tick bites and laboratory testing will help in the diagnosis.
Ehrlichiosis occurs in North America. It is more prevalent throughout the United States when compared to Canada, but there has been cases reported in Canada. The majority of Canadian cases we reported east of Manitoba. Both people and pets can become infected with Ehrlichiosis if they are bitten by an infected tick.
Tick: Brown dog tick (and less commonly the American dog tick and Lone star tick)
Pathogen: Ehrlichia sp.
Transmission time: as little as 3 hours
Symptoms: Infection can cause fever, swollen lymph nodes, respiratory distress, weight loss, anemia, bleeding episodes, lameness, eye problems (including hemorrhage into the eyes or blindness), neurological problems, and swollen limbs.
Anaplasmosis occurs in North America. It is more prevalent throughout the United States when compared to Canada, but there has been cases reported in Canada. The majority of Canadian cases we reported in Manitoba and Ontario. Anaplasmosis is considered a zoonotic pathogen. This means it has the potential to infect humans directly from the infected animal. Luckily this direct transmission from animals to people, or animal to animal is highly unlikely and has not been documented. Humans can get Anaplasmosis if they are bitten by a tick carrying the disease.
Tick: Blacklegged (Deer) tick, Western tick
(A lesser form of anaplasmosis is caused by Anaplasma platys and is transmitted by the brown dog tick).
Pathogen: Anaplasma phagocytophilum
Transmission time: as little as 4 hours
Symptoms: Infection can cause lameness, joint pain, fever, lethargy, and anorexia. Infection with the A. platys strain can cause cyclic thrombocytopenia- a decrease in platelets. Both Anaplasmosis and Lyme disease have similar symptoms and it is common for both disease to be present in an infected animal.
Where will I find ticks?
Ticks are everywhere! Ticks are usually found in grassy or wooded areas and near or around bushes and shrubs, but they can also be found just as easily in non-wooded areas. Ticks don’t jump or fly, they stretch out their forelegs to grab and cling on to passers-by.
Always check your pet after spending time out doors. Check against the lay of the fur, looking and feeling for any small bumps.
Your pet may have a tick if…
You find a tick in your home. There may more on your pet, so be sure to do a closer examination of them.
Your pet is shaking their head excessively. Ticks attached near the ear can be very irritating to your pet.
Your pet is showing signs of any tick-borne diseases. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian if your pet is showing symptoms with a history of being in an environment that may have ticks.
If you find a tick on your dog, your first priority should be to get it removed. Removal can be done at the veterinary clinic or at home. Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. Then pull firmly straight upwards to remove the tick. Bring the tick to your veterinary clinic. It will be submitted to the Alberta government tick surveillance program for identification.