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Learn how to protect yourself and your pets from ticks

This article is part of a monthly series highlighting strategic areas in the OVC Healthy Futures Strategic Plan 2022. Our Impact: Influencing Societal Change: OVC will be the source for societally relevant expertise and innovative solutions in veterinary medicine and One Health in Canada and beyond.

Photo of a man with a dog sitting by a lake

After an unsettled spring, warmer temperatures are finally arriving across Canada. Warmer temps not only bring people and pets outdoors, they increase tick activity.

In many parts of Canada, particular concerns turn to the blacklegged tick known to transmit Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease in humans, dogs and horses.

“While tick activity varies by species and life stage, spring and fall are when you generally see peaks in blacklegged tick activity and when the risk of tick bites is high for dogs and people,” says Dr. Katie Clow, DVM and post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Scott Weese’s lab at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC).

Dogs are really good at picking up ticks because they frequent tick habitats, and as a result can be early markers that the tick population is changing. In 2016, Weese, a leading researcher on transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans, launched the Pet Tick Tracker. This is an online surveillance tool created to monitor changes in tick populations by encouraging the public to help track ticks found on dogs across the country. 

The public could access the tick tracker through Weese’s popular Worms and Germs website. However, Weese believed it needed its own home and this led to the recently launched website. website

Created by Clow, Weese and Michelle Evason at the Atlantic Veterinary College, the website, brings together the Pet Tick Tracker, with up-to-date, evidence-based information on ticks including identification of various species and the pathogens they may transmit. The retooled tick tracker has an easy online submission process with the option to send the tick to OVC for identification and there are plans for real-time plotting of tick tracker results on the map. 

“We’ve also included a specific section devoted to research. As new research comes out within the realm of pets and ticks we’ll have summaries and links so people can follow what’s been going on. It’s definitely an active area of research and continual change,” says Clow. 

The site is designed with veterinarians and the general public in mind. 

“It’s important to remember that getting outside with your pets and exercising is good for you and your pet’s health. However, we want people to understand the risks and take appropriate precautions,” says Clow. “These days a tick check should be part of our mindset – we wash our hands before we eat, wear sunscreen and after going for a hike in the woods, we should do a tick check. It’s one of the best things we can do to protect ourselves- and our pets.”

Prof. Weese appeared in a recent CBC News story about how Canadian scientists are tracking the threat of Lyme disease. 

(Photo: hobo_018)