As the days get longer and the weather gets nicer, pets and their owners will be spending more time outside.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) said the risk of Lyme disease in the province’s tick population is currently low but the staff at Rimbey Veterinary Clinic and Lacombe Pet Clinic said there are a few things pet owners can do just to be safe.
“The best way is to use preventative medications from your veterinary but avoiding tall grass can help,” said Karen Duvall, Registered Veterinary Technologist (RVT) at Rimbey Veterinary Clinic.
She said that simple checks of your pet when they come inside are also a great way to prevent problems.
“Look around the neck, ears, eyes and under limbs,” said Duvall. Checking between the toes on all paws and around and under the tail of the pet is also recommended.
Dr. Sukhbir Nain, veterinarian at Lacombe Pet Clinic said that should you find a tick on your pet, it is best to have it removed right away as long-term skin contact could lead to a variety of different diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis. Lyme disease is an infection caused by the spiral-shaped bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi, which are most commonly transmitted by a tick bite.
“Not all ticks transmit Lyme disease, but there are two types of ticks that are capable of spreading it in Canada. One being the black-legged or deer tick (Ixodes Scapularis) located in southeastern and south-central regions of Canada, the second one is the black-legged tick (Ixodes Pacificus) located in western Canada.”
He said that ticks are most active when temperatures start to rise above four degrees Celsius. Adding that the best form of removal is to use tweezers or a tick remover to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it out slowly, in a straight and steady motion.
“You must grab the tick as close to the head as possible and don’t twist,” said Duval. “This risks the head coming off and causing an infection.”
“When it comes to clean-up and after-care, it is recommended to put the tick in a closed container and mark the date that it was found,” said Amanda Casey, RVT at Lacombe Pet Clinic. “If your pet should display any symptoms of tick-borne illnesses, your veterinarian may want to identify or perform tests on it.”
Dr. Nain and Casey said that typical symptoms include arthritis or lameness, swollen joints, fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite and neurological issues.
“You will also want to wash your hands, sterilize the tweezers and wipe your pet’s wound with antiseptic following the removal of the tick. Keep an eye on the tick site and if it stays irritated or develops an infection, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible,” said Casey.
“We don’t have a risk for Lyme disease yet but the government of Alberta has a tick surveillance program to keep track of ticks to see if the one that passes Lyme disease is in the area,” said Duvall.
Through the eTick.ca “Submit-a-Tick,” program, ticks can be submitted for species determination and B. Burgdorferi testing.
New to the program this year, Alberta is implementing photo submissions for rapid tick speciation. The first step is submitting a photograph of the tick specimen taken with a smartphone or digital camera and submitting it to eTick using the eTick App, or through eTick.ca.
The eTick App can be downloaded for free from Google Play or the Apple App Store. Tick photographs are examined to determine the species with results provided to the submitter typically within one business day.
Laboratory testing of requested ticks began on July 19, 2021. For laboratory testing, it is recommended that residents contact their local veterinarian. To streamline lab use, only ticks that have been requested to be submitted for further testing following eTick photo screening will be accepted at the lab. AHS said that most ticks found in Alberta are not the type that can transmit Lyme disease. Submitting requested ticks to the lab is optional but this helps Alberta Health to monitor for ticks of public health concern in Alberta.