By Nicolette Joosting
March is National Tick Awareness Month. One effect of changing environmental conditions has been the recent rapid expansion of blacklegged ticks in Canada.
It is not just that these eight-legged bloodsuckers creep us out when we find an engorged tick with mouthparts firmly cemented into the skin, salivating blood thinners, allergens and toxins that cause paralysis or massive tissue necrosis.
Ticks carry serious diseases that affect humans, livestock and our pets.
Lyme disease, caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, is probably the one you heard about the most, but the range of diseases that ticks can transmit is impressive. There are over 900 species of ticks identified globally.
Climate change is not the only culprit — travellers and the domestic and exotic pet trades are introducing new species, along with some of these diseases, into our previously tick-complacent Canadian landscape.
We all love being outdoors in B.C. More of us than ever before will be camping, hiking and travelling as the weather warms up. Ticks are everywhere.
BCCDC notes that most Lyme-disease carrying ticks are in southwestern B.C., including Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, the Sunshine Coast, Greater Vancouver, and the Fraser Valley.
But wherever you and the pets are headed this year, be aware of ticks.
The best way to prevent tick-transmitted diseases is to prevent tick bites. They are amazing creatures, capable of surviving extreme conditions for years. You will find them under bushes, ready to crawl out from the sand in mitey droves at the whiff of your breath.
They are not jumpers, so to get onto your legs or your dog, they climb up stalks of long grass, and catch a ride on passersby brushing against the grass.
You may notice and brush them off, but mostly they will have finished their bloodmeal and dropped off already, leaving you with an itchy bite or rash.
Finding a non-engorged tick in animal fur is incredibly difficult.
Although tick season is really all year round, they are generally more active from March to June.
It’s not really possible to avoid ticks on a hike but taking some simple precautions for you and your dogs will help.
Wear light-coloured clothing that covers your legs, tucking your pants into your socks. Stay on the pathways. Use a safe insect repellant.
Talk to your veterinarian about tick prevention products and make sure you are giving them regularly throughout spring, summer and fall.
There is a Lyme vaccine for dogs that your veterinarian may suggest.
Once back from your walk or hike, comb through your dog’s fur for ticks and remove any you find.
Put your clothing into the laundry and check yourself for bites – and call your doctor if you do experience any bug bite that does not heal within a day.
TickTalkCanada.com has informative videos and loads of tips for dealing with ticks on pets, including this one for safe removal of a tick: take a fine pair of tweezers, grasp the tick as closely to the skin as possible, and pull up gently and firmly until the tick releases itself.
Exposing a tick to a noxious substance or trying to burn it to make it let go will make it regurgitate and cling harder, increasing the risk of disease transmission, as well as possibly damaging it so that the mouthparts remain in the skin.
Call your veterinarian if you need assistance removing a tick from your pet.
Take TICK care and stay safe this spring!