Everyone knows that ticks are irksome—however, these miniscule menaces are more of a problem than they might seem.

Summer is finally upon us, and with that means a lot of warm weather playtime with your furry friends. Unfortunately, this pleasant time of year heightens a new risk for your pet’s wellbeing—the contraction of ticks.

Bothersome Bloodsuckers

These puny pests chow down on the blood of other animals, much like mosquitos. They are most prevalent in areas that are abundant with tall grasses, as they use the long blades to make contact with their prey. Once they become attached, they bury their head into superficial blood vessels—like those found at the nape of the neck—in order to feed.

In the past, these troublesome arachnids were mainly a summertime issue. Now, however, this species has become endemic to some areas of the country, meaning that they live and breed here. As such, they are becoming a year-round problem for humans and pets alike.

“In recent years, I’ve treated dogs with ticks even in December and January,” notes Dr. Clayton Greenway, DVM, B.Sc, lead veterinarian at Scarborough’s West Hill Animal Clinic. “I’ve seen more ticks in the last year and a half than I did in the decade prior.”

A Persistent Problem

The greatest concern with these ectoparasites is that they are carriers for Lyme disease. This ailment is becoming a serious issue in Canada—last year, more than 700 cases of Lyme were reported to the Public Health Agency, while six years prior, only 128 cases were noted.

When left untreated, Lyme disease can result in many severe health issues, including heart problems, nerve damage and kidney failure. The kicker? Your pet may contract it without you actually taking notice.

“Lyme disease can stay latent in pets, meaning that an animal that has it may not necessarily show clinical symptoms right away,” says Dr. Greenway, who also hosts Animal House on Newstalk 1010 radio. “However, it can rear its head months later, causing fever, lethargy, joint pain, or even kidney damage.”

Easy Off

The good news? If removed within 24 hours of the initial bite, a Lyme-infected tick can’t pass on the disease. As such, if you find one on your pet, you must immediately—and carefully—remove it.

“Often, if you just pull a tick off, the head will remain stuck inside the dog,” warns Dr. Greenway. Because of this, he suggests using tick removers to ensure that it is completely taken out. Thirty days after the pest has been safely detached, a blood test must be taken to ensure that Lyme disease was not contracted.

Know Your Risk
Thankfully, this malady is treatable if caught early. Additionally, some medications—including various topical treatments and tablets—are available to prevent ticks from attaching to your pets in the first place.

Dr. Greenway notes that in order to determine whether your pet needs preventative medication, you have to examine his or her chances of getting bitten. “If you look back over the summers before and see a pattern of your animal contracting ticks,” he says, “that means you’re probably at risk.”

“The most important thing is to speak to your vet about your pet’s risk,” he adds. “Medication isn’t the answer for everyone—make your own decisions about your pet’s needs.”

If medication isn’t right for your pet, there are other methods of tick prevention and management. Dr. Greenway recommends implementing a daily checking schedule, or avoiding wooded areas altogether.

So, go forth and enjoy the great outdoors with your pets. Take the proper steps to ensure that they stay protected, and everyone will have a wonderful summer.