Finding ticks in and around Kitchener-Waterloo and surrounding areas is becoming more common, especially as these parasites are spreading farther into Ontario and other parts of Canada. Be aware that ticks like to hang out in wooded or grassy areas, tall grasses, and ground cover such as leaves. In addition, other locations you might visit, such as Hamilton, Turkey Point, and Long Point, are considered to be risk areas.
Ticks are scary because they do more than just feed on blood: they can transmit serious diseases to pets (and people), which may lead to heart and kidney complications, joint damage, and even neurological issues, especially if not caught and treated early. We want to arm you with an understanding of the damage ticks can cause, as well as how to help keep you and your pets protected.
A Look at Ticks
Related to mites and spiders, ticks are small arachnids that live off the blood of people, dogs, and cats, in addition to birds and other animals such as coyotes, deer, horses, rabbits, and rodents.
Of the 900 or so tick species worldwide, just a handful can cause disease in pets and people in our area. The main ticks we have in Kitchener and the surrounding area are blacklegged (deer) ticks and American dog ticks. We occasionally find brown dog ticks as well. Although the lone star tick isn’t a concern in our area yet, this species is being monitored.
Did you know? Nymphs (immature ticks) are about the size of a pinhead or poppy seed, and adult deer ticks are only about as big as a sesame seed!
Not all ticks are infected with disease-causing agents (pathogens), but those that are can transmit Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and other diseases to dogs and cats.
Ticks can also cause tick paralysis, a serious, potentially deadly condition in which the nervous system is attacked by a toxin in the tick’s saliva.
Symptoms of Tick-bourne Diseases
Let us know right away if you notice any of these signs of tick-transmitted diseases:
- Breathing difficulty
- Lameness (potentially shifting from leg to leg, referred to as “shifting leg lameness”)
- Sensitivity to touch
- Stiff, swollen, or painful joints
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Weakness or fatigue
- Weight or appetite loss
Canine Lyme disease cases in Ontario have been steadily increasing. More than 5,200 dogs tested positive last year.
Ticks love wooded and grassy areas, including fields and parks. If you walk, hike, or camp with your pet in these areas, you may come across ticks. Ticks are also being found in urban areas, such as gardens in the city. Depending on where you live, ticks may even live in your own backyard. Ticks will actively look for a blood meal as soon as the temperature reaches is 4 C .
Many ticks search for hosts by “questing”—they climb up onto a low shrub or blade of grass and reach out with their front legs, waiting to grab a pet or person who walks by.
If you spend time outside with your pet, especially in risk areas, it can be difficult to avoid ticks, which is why protecting yourself and your pet against ticks is your best bet.
You can take several important steps to help protect your pet and yourself from ticks:
- Keep your pet on a veterinary tick preventive, as recommended by your Westmount veterinarian. We have topical and oral products to protect your pet.
- Use insect repellents with 25% to 30% DEET or 20% icaridin (picaridin) on yourself. DEET-containing products can also be used on children who are at least 12 years of age, and icaridin can be used on those 6 months of age and up. DO NOT use these products on your dog or cat. DEET is especially toxic to both cats and dogs.
- Avoid areas known for being infested with ticks.
- Try to stay out of tall grass and heavily wooded areas. This tactic won’t prevent you from coming in contact with ticks, but it can help limit the number of ticks you encounter.
- If you’re planning to hike or camp, ask us which areas are high risk for ticks.
- Check yourself and your pet for ticks after you’ve spent time outside, especially if you’ve been in risk areas.
Learn more about how to prevent tick bites and create a tick-safe yard at these sites:
- Government of Ontario: Lyme Disease
- TickEncounter: Protect Your Pets—Containment
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Preventing Ticks in the Yard
- No Bite Is Right
The temperature in the Kitchener-Waterloo and surrounding areas doesn’t tend to stay cold enough for ticks to die off, so they may remain active year-round.
How to Properly Remove a Tick
If you or your pet does end up with an attached tick, here’s how to safely remove it:
- Grasp the tick with fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool right by the skin (near the tick’s mouth).
- Pull the tick straight out, steadily but gently, without twisting, or follow the instructions provided by the tick removal tool manufacturer.
- Place the tick into a sealed baggie or container (like an old pill bottle), and bring the tick into the clinic for identification.
- Clean the bite wound with a mild antiseptic.
- Use isopropyl alcohol to clean the tweezers or tick removal tool.
- Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water.
A few other things to keep in mind:
- Avoid squashing the tick’s body.
- Use gloves, especially if you don’t have tweezers or a tick removal tool. Do not touch the tick with your bare hands, which could potentially allow disease-causing pathogens to get through cuts or scratches in your skin.
- Don’t try to remove the tick’s head if it remains embedded. It will typically fall out on its own within a few days. If the skin around the bite wound remains red or becomes more swollen or irritated, give us a call.
Smothering ticks in petroleum jelly, nail polish, or liquid soap doesn’t work. Burning or freezing a tick is also ineffective and could harm your pet.
How We Can Help
Ticks and tick-bourne diseases are becoming more common in and around Kitchener. At Westmount Animal Hospital, we want to help keep our patients as safe as possible from these parasites.
Call us today to make sure your pet is protected, and feel free to ask any questions you might have about the ticks in our area.