Summer in Ontario is a great time to get outdoors and take advantage of the warm weather, picturesque views and wide array of seasonal activities. It also presents the perfect opportunity for you to bond with your pet while they get some exercise and explore their natural instincts.
Although it’s important for both you and your dog to get some fresh air, adventuring outside shouldn’t go without caution, and pet owners should be on the lookout for seasonal risks, including ticks.
As owner of Oshawa Animal Hospital in Oshawa, Ont., Dr. Sue Dorland sees first-hand the dangers of the growing tick population in southern Ontario. She’s attended to many pets that have been exposed to the insect, some of which are suffering from a tick-borne illness.
Ernie is a nine-year-old Golden Retriever being treated for Lyme disease by Dr. Dorland. Unaware of his condition, Ernie’s family was surprised to learn his diagnosis. “Ernie’s disease was first diagnosed on routine wellness lab work,” says Dr. Dorland. “Although he wasn’t showing signs of illness, his bloodwork and urine showed that he’d contracted the disease and that it was affecting his kidneys.”
In Ontario, the black-legged tick—or the deer tick—is the only known species to carry Lyme disease, an infection that can cause long-term rheumatological and neurological issues. “Only five to 10 per cent of dogs will develop the disease after being bitten,” says Dr. Dorland. “The most serious long-term consequence is the development of kidney disease.”
For humans, it can take anywhere from three days to one month for signs of the disease to appear. But for dogs, it can take longer for symptoms to develop, which can include joint pain, fever and malaise.
“The process of transmitting the bacteria takes about 24 to 48 hours,” says Dr. Dorland. “If the tick is removed within 24 hours, the bacteria cannot infect the host.” The problem, however, is that for dogs with long, thick coats like Ernie’s, it’s easy for a feeding tick to go undetected.
To protect your dog, Dr. Dorland recommends speaking with your veterinarian about preventive treatments, including oral and topical products that help kill and repel ticks. She also advises owners to keep their pets in the centre of walking trails, to maintain their yards and gardens, and to tick-check both themselves and their dogs at least once a day.
In addition, she encourages pet owners to invest in a tick removal tool, so they’re prepared in case they find a tick on their dog and can more easily remove it. “An attached tick needs to be removed carefully so the entire tick, including the mouth-parts, is removed,” says Dr. Dorland. “The tick should be removed with a twisting motion, as this will cause the tick to release fully intact.”
When removing a tick, it’s important to wear gloves to avoid direct contact with the tick. After it’s removed, it should be placed in a small jar with alcohol and sent for testing to determine the species. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling the tick and contact your veterinarian to discuss testing your dog for any tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme disease.
By bringing him in for his annual check up, Ernie’s disease was caught early and Dr. Dorland was able to start treatment. His Lyme disease is under control and he’s now taking preventive medication and his family regularly checks him for ticks. “Ernie is now closely monitored for progression of his disease and continues to enjoy life as a faithful, gregarious and adored family member,” says Dr. Dorland.
If you’ll be adventuring outdoors with your pet this summer, it’s important to book an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss prevention options. “Don’t let a preventable illness get in the way of you enjoying summer with your pet,” says Dr. Dorland. “Speak to your veterinarian – they’re your best source of information regarding the health of your pet.”
Dr. Sue Dorland is OVMA’s president and has been a veterinarian at the Oshawa Animal Hospital for 26 years.