Infected ticks are hitchhiking across Quinte!

Ticks carrying Lyme disease are spreading through the Quinte area. Fortunately, they travel a lot more slowly than misinformation. Be careful what you believe about Lyme. Even the experts disagree a lot.

So, what do veterinarians know for certain about this growing and controversial problem? In medicine, there is no “always”, there is no “never”. Biological systems are too complex to predict with certainty. With that disclaimer in mind, we “know”:

  • • Lyme is spread by ticks carrying infectious bacteria picked up from mice, deer or possibly birds;
  • • the risk of a human getting Lyme disease directly from an infected dog is infinitesimally small;
  • • it takes 24 to 48 hours from the time they bite for ticks to transmit Lyme. Pull them off fast;
  • • only five to 10 per cent of infected dogs get sick and the symptoms are usually confined to an easily treated lameness;
  • • cats can be infected, but don’t get sick, no matter what Dr. Google says;
  • • the only time ticks are inactive around here is in the dead of winter;
  • • very occasionally, dogs get severe kidney disease from Lyme. We don’t know why.

We also don’t know how best to prevent infections. There are several vaccines for dogs. Shouldn’t we at least be vaccinating local dogs now that the disease is spreading? That depends who you ask.

Our neighbours in the northeastern United States have been battling Lyme for a long time, along with other tickborne diseases that we don’t get here – yet. Down there, more than 70 per cent of dogs test positive for Lyme, yet many vets in those areas do not vaccinate. Instead, they promote tick-control measures. Keep yards clear of high grass that ticks climb to get onto passing dogs and people. Eliminate areas like woodpiles and birdfeeding stations to avoid attracting tick-carrying wildlife.

Pesticide spot-ons and collars are popular for tick control. Products containing permethrins and amitraz are among the most effective tick repellents available in Canada for dogs. They are highly toxic to cats.

Locally, the infected tick population used to be confined to Presqu’ile Park and several spots in Prince Edward County. Last week we diagnosed active Lyme disease in a lame dog that was probably infected in the Weller’s Bay area and she certainly wasn’t the first outlier. A field study is currently underway which should provide more information about how far the problem has spread. For now, it seems likely that infected ticks will steadily hitchhike their way across our region, putting most local dogs at risk.

Being a veterinarian, I am not qualified to address the human side of this problem, but people can get seriously ill from Lyme disease. Talk to your vet about whether to test, vaccinate or use pesticides for your dog, but don’t ignore the more serious risks to your human family’s health posed by Lyme disease.

Reliable information about Lyme in animals is available online from Veterinary Partner. For human health issues, start with Health Canada’s website or ask your doctor – not Dr. Google – for advice. For a bit more information on our own site try this link Ticks and Lyme disease on the rise and this one Ticks.. Yuck!.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Trenton/Quinte West, Ontario
May 2013