By Heather Fegan
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
NEW GLASGOW, N.S. – Like many areas of the province, Pictou County is a hotbed for ticks and this year is proving to be particularly problematic for people and their pets.
“We’ve had quite a number of Lyme positive cases in dogs within the last month or so,” says Dr. Kathryne Finlayson, a veterinarian at East River Animal Hospital in New Glasgow.
Finlayson says she's seen at least three positive cases per week in the last month.
“From what I understand, it’s becoming quite prevalent all over. Pictou County is very bad, the Valley is quite bad, I believe. I know I have colleagues that work in Bedford, and Bedford seems to be a hotspot as well.”
Dr. Aimee Patterson at Basinview Animal Hospital in Bedford says the prevalence of ticks has been increasing every year for the past five years. According to the Government of Nova Scotia’s Lyme Disease Estimated Risk Areas, every county in the province – except Richmond, Inverness and Victoria – has a moderate to high risk of black-legged ticks. Those are the risky ones that can transmit Lyme disease. And there's still a chance at finding black-legged ticks in all areas of Nova Scotia.
While pet owners can try to avoid grassy and wooded areas, where ticks are commonly found, “a dog is going to live their life,” says Patterson.
She advises keeping the grass short by mowing it as often as you can.
“At the end of the day, if you find a tick, you need to take it off,” she adds.
She recommends using a tick twister or tweezers.
“Don’t try to smother the tick. That’s a common thing we see,” she says. “Pinch at the base of the skin where the tick is attached, and pull it straight out.”
Squeezing and breaking the tick can result in transmitting the infection from the tick to the pet.
As for tick prevention, Finlayson says there are different products that can be used for dogs.
“There’s a chewable tablet, it will help prevent ticks from attaching and living on the pet. There are also topical products that be used,” she says.
Finlayson warns pet owners to be careful with felines because some of those products are meant for dogs only and can be quite toxic to a cat.
“They definitely would have to check with their veterinarian before applying any topical product to a cat,” she says. “There is a product that is now safe to use in cats, that’s sold only through veterinary clinics. And it will help prevent ticks from attaching and living on the pet.”
Finlayson says while there have been no documented cases of Lyme disease in cats, there is the concern of the cat bringing ticks inside.
“Generally speaking, if a cat gets a tick, it’s usually up around their head or their neck, where they can’t reach to groom it,” she adds.
The same goes for dogs.
“If a dog doesn’t have product on and gets a tick, it’s usually around their face or their ears or inside their ears,” says Finlayson. “It’s always good to check your pet over and be really thorough up around the neck and chin and ears when you’re looking. When they’re running around outside, dogs tend to have their nose to the ground.”
Once a tick attaches to the skin, it will engorge and its body becomes full of blood.
“A lot of times, a couple of days later, you may find it that way,” says Finlayson.
If the tick has an opportunity to feed and is carrying the bacteria that could cause Lyme disease, it could potentially infect a pet or human after 24 to 48 hours.
“You could potentially develop illness as a result of that,” she says. “We recommend daily checks on the pets, yourself, and your children.”
According to Finlayson, the best tool is prevention. She recommends purchasing tick treatments through a veterinary clinic. While there are products that are sold through pet stores, she says they are not as effective and therefore offer a false sense of security.
People can also vaccinate their dogs annually.
“If you do miss a tick, then you’re going to catch up with the immunity from the vaccine,” says Finlayson. “No vaccine is 100 per cent. Even if you are vaccinating, you don’t want that pet bringing ticks into your house. We recommend both.”
The products currently on the market do help with tick prevention up to 90 per cent of the time, she adds. Finlayson recommends annual Lyme testing as well, to make sure dogs are negative before they start vaccinating.
“Then we go ahead and vaccinate and discuss flea and tick prevention with the owners,” she said.
East River Animal Hospital holds a Lyme clinic once a year.
“We offer Lyme testing and vaccines (for dogs only) and hand-outs on the options for flea and tick prevention.”
This year’s Lyme clinic is on Tuesday, July 16 from 1 to 8 p.m.
The most common symptoms to watch for in dogs are shifting lameness and fever.
“They come in not themselves,” says Finlayson. “A high temperature, usually, and they appear lame, so they’re sore. Dogs can appear to be stiff on one leg one day and stiff on another leg the next day. We’ve unfortunately had some cases where it’s affected the kidneys, and dogs have come in with kidney failure.”
When diagnosed early, there is treatment available, and some dogs can be successfully treated.
“We treat with an antibiotic called doxycycline. They use that with humans as well,” says Finlayson.
Treatment generally lasts 21 to 28 days. When kidneys are harmed, it makes treatment more difficult, she says.
According to Patterson, 90 to 95 per cent of dogs who have Lyme disease are asymptomatic. The good news is, not all ticks will transmit Lyme disease, only infected parasites. When they do transmit the infection, if a pet displays symptoms or not, it can be quite serious.
Finlayson urges pet owners that find a tick on their pet or have any concerns at all to talk to their veterinarian and arrange to run a test after six weeks to check for Lyme.
“Our climate is perfect for ticks, with the temperate weather, a cooler spring and fall,” says Patterson.
“They used to say that ticks like to come out when it’s above four degrees. Now the latest research is showing zero degrees. We do see little outbreaks throughout the winter, so we talk to people about treatment year round.”