What you need to know to keep your dog safe
Summer is finally here! For many dog owners in Ontario, that means a great opportunity to get outside and enjoy the incredible nature that we’re surrounded by in this province and the ones nearby. Whether you’re exploring the best dog parks in Ottawa, swimming the lakes of Muskoka, or camping somewhere off the beaten path with a backpack and canoe, Ontario summers are a great chance to give you and your dog a healthy dose of the outdoors.
While there is plenty to love about this time of year, it does have its tradeoffs, one of which is the emergence of the bugs that had been hiding all winter. Of particular importance to dog owners who love being outside with their furry friend, are ticks in Ontario. These tiny creatures can cause quite a bit of harm to your dog if not dealt with properly, but this guide will break down everything you need to know to keep your dog safe from ticks so you can both enjoy everything summer has to offer.
What are ticks?
Ticks are part of the spider family and feed on the blood of dogs, people and any mammal or bird they can get their teeth into. Ticks evolved by the Cretaceous period, which basically makes them Dinosaur Vampire Spiders. They are found almost worldwide, especially in warm, humid climates but have also been found in Antarctica, feeding on penguins. They’re the worst and I hate them.
Because they ingest blood, ticks can transmit at least 12 diseases that affect humans and other animals. Ticks transmitting disease in Canada is pretty uncommon, however, Black Legged Ticks that pass on Lyme disease is a growing problem for both humans and dogs. Ticks find us and our dogs by breath, odour or sensing a change in the environment (body heat, vibrations etc). Thankfully they can’t fly or jump (because if they could I’d probably have to move somewhere else) but they wait in a position called “questing”. The tick holds on to vegetation with 4 of their 8 legs and holds their 2 front legs out like they are doing the YMCA. They hold themselves like this until they can grab and climb onto an unsuspecting victim.
What do ticks look like?
If you want to be able to protect yourself and your dog from ticks, you’ll need to know what they look like in various stages – from eggs to adults, and the difference between a tick bite that is brand new, and an engorged tick that has already eaten.
How big are ticks?
To give you an idea of how big ticks are, check out the picture below. These are some of the most common ticks in Ontario, so if you encounter a tick this summer, there’s a good chance it’ll look like one of these. As you can see, they start out really small and grow to be around ⅛ inch long as adults (see the dime in the picture for reference).
Engorged tick pictures
As adults, they’ll be looking to feed. Once they find a host to latch onto and start sipping on blood, they’ll become engorged. An engorged tick can grow many times its initial size as it fills up, and that can also give you an idea of how long a tick has been on your dog before you found it.
Tick Egg Pictures
Even if you don’t see ticks themselves, you might come across their eggs in the wild. If you happen to see them, which would be rare due to their size, they’ll look like small reddish-brown balls. An entire clump of the eggs wouldn’t be any bigger than 2 adult female ticks.
Tick Identification Guide
If you have found a tick, it’s often useful to know what kind it is. One way to help figure that out is this handy Tick Identification Guide. Following this should help you differentiate between some of the most common types of ticks you might find on your pet.
Types of ticks in Ontario
With an estimated 899 different species of ticks in the world, you may encounter one of a number of different kinds. Ticks found in Canada are Black-legged ticks (aka Deer ticks), Brown Dog ticks, American Dog ticks, and Lone Star ticks (which are fairly uncommon). You can find pictures of ticks, their habitats and disease transmission information in the table below.
Be sure to reference the Companion Animal Parasite Council if you are travelling to the United States because along with the ticks listed above there are a few other ticks and risks that you should protect your dog against such as Wood ticks and Spinose ear ticks.
Where can I find ticks in Ontario?
Ontario is a pretty good place for ticks with our lush swaths of nature and warm, humid summer months. According to Public Health Ontario, “while low, there is a possibility of encountering blacklegged ticks almost anywhere in the province, provided the habitat is suitable for blacklegged ticks.” So what habitat is most suitable for ticks? Well, you’re most likely to find them in the following places:
- Fields with longer grassy areas
- Forest areas
- Areas with sandy soil
- Where deer are present
- Humid areas near rivers and lakes
- Unmaintained transitional edge habitat between woodlands and open areas
When you take a look at what that means for those nefarious, lyme disease carrying Blacklegged ticks in Ontario, you can see that you need to watch out for ticks in Toronto, Ottawa and many other places across the province.
How to find ticks on a dog
For anyone who’s spent some time outside in an area that might be a home for ticks, it’s important to know how to check your dog to see if they picked any up while exploring their surroundings.
You can quickly check for ticks by running your hands over your dog’s body, feeling for any small bumps. If you happen to feel something, it’s best to part their fur and take a closer look to see if it’s a tick. When you’re searching for ticks on your dog, you should prioritize checking the following areas, as they are common places for ticks to bite as the skin is often thinner:
- Under the collar
- Under front legs
- Between back legs
- Between the toes
- Around the tail
If you do find something on your dog, it may look something like this picture of a tick bite.
How to remove a tick from a dog
If you find a tick on your dog or on yourself, you may be tempted to get rid of the tick as quickly as possible. While tempting, you should pause for a minute and make sure you’re taking the appropriate steps to ensure the complete removal of the tick, with nothing left behind.
What you’ll need:
- Fine-tipped tweezers or specific tick removal device (I have a TickKey on my key chain)
- Rubber gloves if you have them
- Treats for your pup
- Rubbing alcohol or antiseptic wipes
- Container that can be sealed, tape that you can stick the tick to, or a flushing toilet nearby
- Flamethrower (*optional and not suggested)
Make your own little kit to keep in the car or at home or order this handy kit already prepared for you.
Instructions to Remove a Tick
- Put on rubber gloves.
- If you are using the tweezers, grab the tick as close to your dog’s skin surface. If you are using the TickKey, check out their website on how to use it and follow steps 4-6 after.
- Once you have a firm hold, slowly pull upward with steady pressure. Don’t twist or jerk it out because it may break the head or mouth parts that can remain attached to your dog. (This is also why I don’t suggest getting one of the tick hooks that specifically tell you to twist it out.)
- Once the tick is removed, don’t try to squish it because they have a very hard outer skeleton and you may release any disease they may carry. The best thing to do is place them in rubbing alcohol then in a sealed container to be sent to be tested. You can also stick it to tape and fold over to throw out. Or my favourite, flush that sucker down the toilet.
- Clean the bite area and your hands with soap and water, rubbing alcohol or antiseptic wipes.
- Breathe a sigh of relief. You did it! Give your dog a treat and maybe find a treat for yourself too
If you are a visual learner, check out this step by step video tutorial on how to remove ticks using tweezers.
Tick Prevention and Protection
In an ideal world, you’d never have to worry about removing ticks from your dog. While there will always be some chance a tick finds your dog, there are a number of things you can do to reduce the odds that your pet will fall prey to ticks in Ontario.
Note: we are not paid to advertise any products or links so all information listed here is from experience, opinion, and/or my own research.
Environmental Tick Protection
- Check your pet after every off-leash walk or if they come into contact with longer grass
- Remove fallen leaves, tall grasses, and weeds at the edge of the woods on your property (although I don’t suggest this one since this is also great habitat for other nice insects like bees and butterflies who promote pollination)
- Plant deer resistant plants to help deer stay out of your yard and the deer ticks that may come with them
- Plant different species of plants that fleas and ticks dislike – lavender, sage, mint, wormwood, rosemary, and marigolds are good options.
- Vaccines for Lyme disease – ask your vet if they offer this and if it’s right for your pup
- K9 Advantix by Bayer (what I use on my dog) – the only preventative product on the market that kills ticks before they bite. They are a topical product, that spreads throughout the fatty layer of the skin and then through the hair. When the tick walks on the dog, it absorbs the drug from the hair through their feet and dies before it has a chance to bite. All other products require a tick to bite, as the drug is in the blood system. *Be cautious if you have cats in the house as this product is deadly to them.
- Frontline – another topical product that is given monthly but I don’t think it requires a prescription so I would contact your vet to make sure that this medication doesn’t interact with anything else your dog may be taking.
- Bravecto – a chewable tablet that lasts 3 months. I do not recommend this one as there are many different stories of dogs getting very ill, plus anything that lasts in a dogs system for 3 months to kill another organism through the bloodstream is not something I’m interested in giving my dog.
- NexGuard – similar to Bravecto, this is a chewable that is given every month. Again, not something I’m interested in giving my dog especially since both Bravecto, NexGuard, and Revolution has been seen to have possible neurological effects as well
- Revolution Plus – a topical treatment given once a month similar to Advantix but with the possibility of neurological effects in the link given above, I’m not willing to risk giving this to my dog. It also seems to only protect against the American Dog Tick and not the Lyme disease-carrying Black Legged Tick.
Natural Tick Repellents
- EM Collar – Although I haven’t used this product, I have heard great things from many people that they are an effective natural alternative to topical or ingestible prevention medication. I would pair this with the Advantix that I already use for an extra bit of security against these evil creatures. They do say that it can take up to 4 weeks to take effect so it’s advised to start this treatment early. Find out more here.
- Essential oils – Geranium, Citronella, Cedar are effective in keeping ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas away although I would suggest using this in conjunction with a topical treatment or the EM collar. You also have to be very careful using essential oils as dogs skin and noses are much more sensitive to the smells and oils. I would suggest getting this pre-made spray that is Health Canada approved for medicinal grade manufacturing, plus it is ethically sourced, renewable and kosher.
- Diatomaceous Earth – is fossilized remains of diatoms which look and feel like a fine powder, that suck all the water out flea and tick bodies and kill them. Be careful applying this as it can be harmful to the lungs if a large amount is inhaled. It can also dry out their skin so make sure you supplement their food with some coconut oil.
Ticks and Lyme Disease
While in many cases, ticks can be nothing more than a hungry, annoying guest, one potential outcome is the transmission of bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Lyme disease is serious enough that you’ll want to make sure you’re guarded against it and take the proper precautions if you dog has a tick bite.
Lyme Disease Symptoms
Lyme disease has a number of symptoms that you’ll want to watch out for if you’ve found a tick on your dog. Alternatively, if you happen to see any of these symptoms, it might be wise to do another thorough check of your dog for tick bites. Later stages of Lyme disease can be quite serious, leading to death if not treated in time, so please be proactive.
Some of the symptoms related to Lyme disease to watch out for are:
- Fatigue or reduced energy
- Loss of appetite
- Skin rash
- Pain or discomfort
- Lameness or stiffness (reduced ability to move certain body parts)
- Swollen joints
- Kidney failure, heart and neurological problems (late stages)
How do you test for Lyme disease
If you find a tick on your dog, or are concerned about symptoms your seeing being a possible case of Lyme disease, it’s best if you visit your local veterinary clinic for help. They will be able to access your dog’s medical history and physical symptoms, as well as running labs tests on your dog’s blood or ticks you’ve removed and brought in as samples.
What is the treatment for Lyme disease?
If you find out your dog has contracted Lyme disease, you have some options to help them recover. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics. Usually for at least 30 days, but can take longer if symptoms aren’t resolved. Other medication or therapy may be prescribed to relieve and resolve specific symptoms, for example, water therapy for swollen joints and stiffness. In either case, your veterinary clinic will be able to provide the best suggestion on getting your dog back to their normal, healthy self.
Do all ticks have Lyme disease?
Thankfully no, not all ticks in tick infective areas carry Lyme disease. It also depends on if the tick attaches and how long they feed on the dog or human to transmit the disease. If ticks are removed within 36 hours, it is unlikely it will lead to infection, even if they do carry the disease. Obviously, it’s very important to remove the tick <link to remove tick section of the blog> as soon as possible.
While ticks in Ontario are something you should certainly be aware of and on the lookout for, taking the proper steps in prevention, identification, and treatment will help make sure that your dog doesn’t skip a beat – something so important in our short Ontario summers.
Now go enjoy the outdoors!
Disclaimer: We are not doctors. Therefore we cannot and do not offer medical advice. If you have a medical problem, please see your licensed veterinarian. Self-treatment is not recommended. Products listed by AquaFit Dog Care are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Additionally, the contents of this web site are strictly for information purposes only, and should not in any way be construed as providing or attempting to provide medical advice. Information on this web site is derived from sources deemed to be accurate and reliable, but no guarantee, express or implied, can be made regarding the accuracy or reliability of same. Therefore readers are encouraged to verify for themselves and to their own satisfaction the accuracy and reliability of all reports, recommendations, conclusions, comments, and opinions. AquaFit Dog Care does not make any claims or promises as to health benefits accruing from the use of any product.