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Learn how to avoid bites from blacklegged ticks, which have been known to carry dreaded Lyme disease.

Ontario public health officials are asking the public to watch out for these tiny arachnids, called ticks, that can spread Lyme disease, a real nasty. Ticks are parasitic arthropods that feed on the blood of their hosts. They are attracted to warmth and motion, often seeking out mammals. This includes people, dogs, and cats. 

Nasty, little spiral-shaped bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi causes Lyme disease. It hitches a ride in the stomachs of some, but not all, tick species. Although in theory it is debatable that most species of ticks can carry the disease, there are only certain species that commonly transmit it. Blacklegged ticks are the main perps.

Dr. Curtis Russell, a biologist with Public Health Ontario, told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning that the agency is tracking a “steady increase” in the number of cases of Lyme disease. “We’re also seeing an increase in the number of blacklegged ticks, which is the only tick that can transmit Lyme disease in Ontario,” he continued to explain.

Blacklegged ticks (also called deer ticks) live in woodlands, tall grasses and bushes – and thrive in wet environments. Not all blacklegged ticks carry Lyme disease. A tick must be infected by the bacteria causing Lyme disease in order to pass it on to you. In Ontario, they are most commonly found in areas along the north shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Even though Lake Superior isn’t on the list, it is still very possible infected ticks can be found anywhere in the province, and sometimes even after summer has long gone.

Public Health Ontario offers these tips for protection:

  • Stay on the path: if you’re in an area where ticks may be found, stay where it’s dry and avoid long grass and bushes.
  • Cover up: wear light coloured clothing so you can spot ticks. Long sleeves and long pants. Tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks to make it harder for ticks to find your skin.
  • Repellent: use an insect repellant that contains DEET.
  • Check: after returning home check your body for ticks, paying special attention to your scalp, ankles, armpits, groin, navel and behind your ears and knees. Also check your pets.
  • Wash: take a shower or bath. Put your clothes in the dryer for at least 60 minutes to kill any ticks.

How to prevent pets from getting ticks

It can be a very difficult to prevent your pet’s exposure to these nasty little bugs. Ticks can attach to your cat or dog when he or she goes with you on walks, hikes, or during any outdoor activities. Even a quick pee outside can bring in an unwanted critter.

The best way to prevent ticks from attaching to your pet is by the regular use of tick control products. There are collars, medications, or more natural sprays such as “Head of the Herd” we carry in store. Your veterinarian can advise you about the best product for your pet and your situation. Your veterinarian is also aware of diseases that are common in your area and can pose a risk to your pet.

If you have a tick problem in your yard consider:

  • treating the outdoor environment (be sure to understand what products you are using and how they affect the environment or if they could be poisonous to your pets)
  • making a landscape change to make the environment less tick friendly – this can be done by providing a 3-foot buffer between the lawn and any woods.  Mulch, wood chips, or gravel work well, and help to decrease the migration of ticks into yards.
  • ridding your yard of wild animals that can help carry these creatures’ closer to home.

How to remove a tick

Removing a tick is the same for humans and animals. Follow these steps to remove ticks:

  1. If the tick is attached to you, use fine-tipped tweezers or tick removal tool to grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Do not use your fingers.
  2. Pull the tick straight out, gently but firmly making sure to remove the entire tick (including the head). Don’t squeeze it – avoid crushing the tick’s body.
  3. After removing the tick, place it in a secure container, such as a screw-top bottle used for medication.
  4. Give the tick to your health care professional or local health unit.
  5. Thoroughly clean the bite site with rubbing alcohol and/or soap and water.

Keep an eye on your pet

Make sure to keep a close eye on your dog or cat over the next few weeks and be on the lookout for any strange symptoms including a reluctance to move, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite and swollen lymph nodes. If your dog displays any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your vet immediately.

Let’s work together to help keep our pets safe and healthy. Together we can battle ticks and prevent Lyme disease.