Tick exposure, and therefore the risk of being exposed to Lyme Disease, is a burgeoning issue, especially in this area.
While the Gananoque area has long been a hotbed for tick activity, the Seaway area, is now the number two area for tick exposure in the province of Ontario.
Dr. Devin Hunt of the Morrisburg Animal Hospital recently discussed the growing prevalence of tick exposure, and the huge growth the local veterinary practise has seen in canine exposure to Lyme disease.
“In 2006-2007 we may have seen three positive tests for exposure to Lyme disease. This year, so far, we have 26 cases so far in the Morrisburg office,” says Hunt. “These are positive tests for exposure to Lyme disease.”
Throughout the Dundas Veterinary Services practice, which includes the Morrisburg Animal Hospital, the vast majority of positive test results for Lyme come from dogs seen at the Morrisburg location.
“Of the dogs we see, about 70 per cent of those exposed to Lyme, come from the Ault Island – Ingleside area,” said Hunt.
The remainder seem to come from the Williamsburg and Iroquois areas.
Prevention of Lyme disease, in dogs and humans is about minimizing exposure to areas where ticks could be picked up, especially during May-June and September-October.
Hunt explains that adult ticks feed in blooms, and it is during these times when the risk of tick and Lyme disease exposure is higher.
The ticks here that carry Lyme are black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks.
These ticks are also carried by rodents and birds, so tick exposure is not limited to bush and grassy areas. “They can literatly be parachuted into an area by the songbirds that tend to carry them,” said Hunt.
For those living in, or frequenting the Ault Island area, Hunt suggests that dog owners consider the Lyme disease vaccine. He generally recommends that the vaccine be done in March-April, to protect dogs during both of the peak times of the year, one of which is now.
Also, many veterinary strength fleas prevention treatments are also effective for ticks.
Hunt recommends that pet owners regularly check their dogs for ticks.
“Generally, ticks need to be attached for 48 hours for a dog to have a significant risk of contracting Lyme disease.
Even if a dog tests positive for being exposed to Lyme, a follow up veterinary visit will determine whether or not treatment is warranted.
Hunt explains that only about five per cent of those dogs that test positive for Lyme will develop full blown Lyme disease.
“One known bite can result in a positive Lyme disease test result,” says Hunt, but he goes on to explain that it has to be from the right kind of tick (the black legged tick).
Of those ticks, about five per cent actually carry Lyme disease, and if a Lyme carrying tick bites your animal, there’s about a five per cent chance that bite will result if full blown Lyme disease.
Kidney failure is the worst possible outcome for a dog that has been unlucky enough to contract Lyme disease.
Hunt says that anyone finds a tick attached to their dog should carefully remove it by gently pulling it off with tweezers, grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible. Hunt uses a tool called a “Tick Twister” that looks like a tiny crow bar. They are sold for under $15 at the Morrisburg Animal Hospital.
Cats don’t appear as susceptible to the effects of Lyme disease, but dogs a people are at risk of contracting the disease.
Hunt explains that the nature of ticks mean that people aren’t likely to get a tick from their pet, but they are as likely to pick up a tick from the surroundings as their dog is.
Due to the increase in Lyme disease-carrying ticks in the region, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit recommends that people take precautions to protect themselves and their families from Lyme disease:
• Apply insect repellent containing DEET to clothing and on all exposed skin. Read and follow the manufacturer’s directions for safe use.
• When possible, wear long sleeves, long pants, socks and closed footwear (avoid sandals or open shoes). Light-coloured clothing is best because it makes ticks easier to see and remove before they can attach to feed.
• Tuck your shirt into your pants, and tuck your pants into your socks.
• Examine your body for ticks after being outdoors, especially if you were in an area where there’s tall grass or shrubs, or where ticks are known to live. If possible, stay in the middle of trails. Showering after can also help remove ticks that have not yet attached.
Anyone who notices a tick has attached to themselves or a family member, remove it with tweezers and clean and disinfect the site of the bite. “Contact your healthcare provider if you believe the tick was attached for more than 24 hours or if you develop any symptoms of Lyme disease, including a rash that looks like a red bull’s eye and flu-like symptoms,” says the EOHU. Left untreated, Lyme disease can affect the heart, nervous system or joints, but if caught early can generally be treated successfully.
In dogs, Hunt recommends, monitoring a dog that has had a tick removed, and visiting a vet if the animal seems dull, depressed or fevered.