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Ticks & Lyme Disease

The sun is out!....and so are the ticks!  Each spring we like to do a  Lyme disease refresher since it's a topic that our veterinarians are asked about frequently.  Here is some background information on ticks and Lyme disease from our veterinary team and how it can impact our pets: 

Lyme disease in humans and animals is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete organism frequently carried by black-legged ticks of the Ixodes spp. (deer tick).  Borrelia burgdorferi can cause infection in both humans and animals. The spirochete gets transmitted by the tick when it blood feeds on a human or animal.  Typically, the transmission process requires that the tick be attached and feeding for a minimum of 24 hrs (most literature suggests closer to 48 hrs).  If the tick is removed or killed within that period, the spirochete should not have had time to be transmitted.   While we used to see tick emergence and duration only last for a couple of months in the spring, with recent climate changes we are now finding ticks on patients from spring right through late fall.   Veterinarians in Saskatchewan have even been identifying ticks on patients during the winter months!  This is because the tick life cycle can be active at temperatures as low as 4 degrees Celsius. 

The majority of ticks that we see here in Saskatchewan are American Dog Ticks (Dermacentor spp). which are not known carriers of Lyme disease.  That said, areas in Canada known to have high numbers of black-legged ticks are B.C. (Vancouver Island, Southern Mainland, coastal B.C. facing Vancouver Island, and river valleys in the southern parts of the province), Manitoba (west side of Lake of the Woods, Pembina, St. Malo, Vita/Arbakka, Roseau & Assiniboine Rivers, Agassiz/Sandilands forests, Winnipeg, Delta Beach, Winnipeg Beach, Tolstoi, Touraond, and southern parts of the province along U.S. border), Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and many of the United States.   If you know that you will be travelling with your dog to one of these areas, please discuss preventative measures with one of our veterinarians.  If you are not travelling outside of Saskatchewan, does that mean you don’t need to worry about Lyme disease? The answer is no, not completely!  Although the risk is low in SK, we know that black-legged tick populations are starting to spread across Canada.  Ticks often attach themselves to birds and can then be transported to other geographical areas.  Also when you travel with your pet, if they were to have a tick attach to them, they can potentially bring it back home and hence new tick populations can be established.

Lyme disease presents very differently in people than in animals. While approx. 90% of people infected will develop physical symptoms, approx. 90% of dogs will not!  In the dogs that do show symptoms, it is usually weeks to months after they’ve been infected.  Symptoms can include joint pain, fever, kidney damage, and rarely heart or neurological abnormalities.  

At Wascana Animal Hospital, our goal is always prevention!  For our patients we like to use the P.A.I.R. acronym; Preventative Medication, Avoid areas with tall grass/brush, Inspect your dog for ticks after playing outside, and Remove any ticks that you may find on them. Depending on what life stage the tick is in, they can be as small as a pin-head or as large as a grape! Look and feel carefully when inspecting your pet for ticks.  If you find a tick, remove it as close to the skin as possible by detaching it with slow steady pressure by hand or with tweezers to avoid leaving mouthparts behind.  If you are uncomfortable removing a tick yourself, team members at our hospital are available to assist with removal. We have many different prescription tick preventatives to meet each of our patient’s individual needs.  There are topical and oral options that last for 1 month, as well as oral preventatives that protect for up to 12 weeks.  One of our veterinarians will be able to prescribe an effective and appropriate preventative that will work best for your furry family member!  

The black-legged tick (Ixodes spp).

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For our patients that may be travelling to areas where there is a higher risk of exposure to black-legged ticks, our veterinarians may recommend vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease, in addition to using an appropriate tick preventative.  All dogs must be tested and confirmed seronegative prior to vaccination.  We can perform this blood test at Wascana Animal Hospital and have results in a matter of hours.  If the test result is negative, we will administer the first vaccination, followed by a booster vaccination 3 weeks later.  Vaccination and testing are then performed annually. If one of our patients tests positive, our veterinarians will discuss appropriate monitoring and treatment strategies for that patient long term.  The Borrelia spirochete is very sneaky; it can change its outer surface proteins depending on whether it is still in the tick or in the host (animal or human).  This is what allows the spirochete to “hide” from the host’s immune system resulting in chronic and latent infection.  The vaccine we use at our hospital is very modern, and is the first vaccine developed to stimulate antibodies against both the outer surface protein the spirochete shows while still inside the tick, and multiple others that it can show when entering a person or animal.  The vaccine, in combination with an appropriate tick preventative medication, work together in a multi-faceted approach to minimize the opportunity for infection with Lyme disease.   

Vaccinating and using an appropriate tick preventative are important for public health purposes too.  Aside from the “gross” factor of finding a tick on your pet, it emphasizes the fact that our pets are also vehicles for ticks to travel from outside into our homes.  Many of our pets even sleep in our beds and could potentially bring in unwanted tick guests!  Subsequently, the ticks can feed on our pets, drop off and then attach to a person, resulting in potential disease transmission from pet to human as well.  In addition to Lyme disease, ticks can also carry many other infectious agents such as Ehrlichia, Anaplasmosis, and Rickettsiato name a few!  

Previously, our hospital was part of a national tick surveillance study to help develop a snap shot of tick populations across Canada, as well as locally here in Regina.  Stay tuned, we will be posting the results of these findings soon! As always, if you have any additional questions regarding Lyme disease, vaccination or tick preventative options for your pet, please schedule a consultation appointment with one of our veterinarians. 

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Wascana Animal Hospital

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