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Protecting dogs from ticks and Lyme disease (borreliosis)

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Protecting dogs from ticks and Lyme disease (borreliosis)

In Canada, Lyme disease is the most commonly diagnosed tick borne disease both in people and in dogs. Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) which is transmitted through a tick bite. Protecting your pet from ticks is therefore very important for its health.

There are two types of ticks that can spread Lyme disease in Canada. The black legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) in south eastern and south central regions and the western black legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) in British Columbia. The infected tick must attach and feed for 24-48 hours before the bacteria can be transmitted. 

A disease that is difficult to detect

Signs of Lyme disease in dogs can be vague.  Dogs can be limping, have a loss of appetite, a fever and tiredness. In rare cases, Lyme disease can also cause enlarged lymph nodes and generalized pain. These symptoms can appear as late as 2-6 months after a bite from an infected tick. Diagnosis of Lyme disease is usually confirmed with a positive blood test along with clinical signs of the disease.

 A dog with Lyme disease cannot pass it on to humans. The tick is a mandatory vector.

 
Prevention is key

First we must keep dogs away from ticks. Their habitats include long grass, brushy areas, leaf litter and heavy vegetation. They can be found in the country and in cities such as back yards and parks. Ticks will climb to the top of a leaf or blade of grass and will be wiped on a dog or person as they walk through the vegetation.  Avoid walking dogs in high risk areas; if these areas are unavoidable, dogs should be kept on a leash. 

 
Regularly inspect your pet's skin and hair

Ticks attach to the skin of animals to feed on their blood. When fasted, a tick measures 3 to 10 mm and can easily be missed from a dog’s thick fur coat. After each walk or play session in a tick infested area, dogs should be thoroughly inspected. If you spot a tick on your dog, remove it quickly.  The tick should be grasped as close to the skin as possible with tweezers or a tick puller and pulled straight out. Wear gloves if possible and wash your hands after handling a tick. After extraction, disinfect the bitten area. Keep the tick for identification purposes.

Protect your pet from tick borne diseases

There are effective monthly preventatives that are applied to the skin of your dog. As ticks are active at temperatures above 4 C, they can be found year round in most provinces of Canada. These products are easy to apply and provide peace of mind for a month; some products provided the added benefit of protection against other parasites such as fleas, mosquitoes and lice. A Lyme disease vaccine is available.  Your veterinarian will advise you on the best prevention strategies suited for your dog based on its overall health and lifestyle. Many dogs will benefit from year-round application of tick preventatives.


Due to climate changes and warmer winters, the tick populations are increasing in Canada and tick-related diseases are also on the rise.

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