By Dr. Pilar Villanueva, DVM

Ticks are external parasites, living by feeding on the blood of wild animals, birds, and sometimes your pet or even yourself! While the general rule is that ticks are active above 4 degrees C, we have this false sense that “once it’s cold we will be safe”. But that’s no longer the case; there can be warmer pockets of ground that will allow ticks to be active even in cooler temperatures. Here in Toronto, we are encountering shorter and warmer winters than previous years, many days during winter and early spring the temperatures are way above 4 degrees C, yet many pets aren’t protected!

Ticks can cause considerable harm to your pet’s health by transmitting a series of different diseases including Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis, among others. Some of these diseases may cause irreversible organ damage, chronic arthritis, fever, depression, loss of appetite, anemia and severe damage to your pet’s health.

This photo shows just how small ticks can be, making them extremely difficult to detect in your pet’s fur.

Tick species are widely distributed around the world, including urban areas like Toronto. In fact, some of the areas identified in the city as having black-legged ticks (the species that transmit Lyme disease) are Morningside Park, Cedar Ridge Park and Rouge Park in Scarborough, as well as Algonquin Island, part of the Toronto Island group of parks, across the harbor from the city’s downtown. The risk of tick attacks increases even more during outdoor activities such as wilderness hikes, camping and visiting cottage country areas during summer.

These nasty parasites are incapable of flying or jumping, but they lie in waiting position known as “questing”. They can detect your pet’s breath and body odors, or by sensing body heat, moisture and vibrations.

Tick bites may or may not lead to infection, but long-feeding sessions increase the risk of disease transmission. For this reason we encourage ticks to be removed as soon as possible once you have noticed them on your pet’s body. Fine-tipped tweezers or proper tick removal tools can be used for this purpose. If you are concerned with tick’s head and mouthparts breaking off during removal, you can schedule an appointment with our skilled Registered Veterinary Technician team for a “Tick Removal Appointment” and also to discuss potential risk to tick bite exposure.

Steps we can apply to ensure our pet’s safety and have fun during parasite season:

  1. Schedule your pet’s Parasite Prevention appointment. We run yearly blood tests to ensure your pet has not been exposed to tick bites, and even more important, to check that your pet has not been infected with a disease during the past season.

  2. Start an effective and safe tick prevention product as soon as temperatures are above 4 degrees C. I like to say “if the squirrels are not sleeping even though it is cold, then the ticks are also not sleeping!”

  3. If your pet has been exposed to a tick bite, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. There are important steps to take to ensure your pet is not at risk after exposure.

  4. Perform a “tick check” after a hike, especially if you take your pet to areas of concerns.

Call, email or send us a text message if you are looking to schedule your pet’s parasite prevention visit, or if you have more questions or concerns about ticks. Our friendly and knowledgeable team will be happy to help you!

By Pilar Villanueva, DVM