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Don't Google, go to the vet, says dog owner about Lyme disease

'The first time I discovered a tick, I freaked out,' says MacDonald, who now keeps her dogs medicated against the disease.
Amanda MacDonald walks Case on the Linear Trail in Preston.

It can be 'freaky' for dog owners finding a tick on their beloved fur friend.

That's what happened the first time Amanda MacDonald found a tick on one of her dogs.

"I instantly thought they had Lyme disease, because I didn't know much about ticks," said the Cambridge resident, who was walking her dog Case at Linear Trail in Preston. "I took the tick in, because that's what they say you should do. Thank God, everything was fine, but it freaked me out."

MacDonald said, much like everybody else, the first thing she did was Google for more information.

"And the worst thing you can do is to Google," she said, adding "You start seeing, dog ticks, deer ticks, and various (other) ticks and the photos."

With the help of her vet, she was able to understand how she should check for ticks on her dogs and what to do if she finds one.

"You can't kill the things, because they're invincible, I swear," she said, with a laugh. "What I do is when I take my dogs for a walk, the first thing I do when I get them to the car, is check them as much as I can. I check in the ears, under the chin and in between the legs."

MacDonald, who now treats her dogs regularly with prescribed flea medication, said her vet has told her that the tick doesn't attach for six to 24 hours after making its way onto a host. 

"If I find a tick and it's not attached, I won't take it in," she said. "If it's attached, I'll pull it off and put it in a container and take it to the vet. They can test the dog for Lyme disease, or have the vet tell you what kind of tick it is and if it has Lyme disease or not." 

MacDonald said she is concerned about Lyme disease because she's experienced three ticks so far this season. One too many compared to how many she's seen in the 11 years she's been in Cambridge.

"This year has been the worse so far, last year, I never had one tick on any of my dogs," she said. "This year, I've found two ticks walking on me, one attached to my other dog and one on my sister's dog."

Dr. Adarsh Gupta, vet at Fisher Mills Animal Hospital, concurred with MacDonald's suspicions of a higher tick population this year.

"This time, it's been more than 200 per cent increase than last year," Gupta said, talking about number of cases reported at his workplace. "Last year, (it) was maybe just five to six, but this time it's about 15."

He said he couldn't be certain what is causing this high incidence rate but it could be the abrupt changes in weather that are allowing ticks to breed more.

"That could be one reason," said Gupta. "Another reason could be that people are going more into solitary places like hiking tracks, so more dogs are roaming around in the bushes."

Tick identification and testing is a good way of going about determining if there's a chance of Lyme disease, he said, adding the tick is called blacklegged tick or deer tick. A common indicator for a tick bite is the development of a bullseye rash and swelling similar to a mosquito bite.

Gupta said there are also symptoms to watch for.

"People should wait for a couple weeks before getting a blood test done or watch for the symptoms, like fever, lameness, or lethargy," he said. 

Kerri Hutchinson, supervisor, Health Communications for the Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services, said in an email that blacklegged ticks are not commonly found in the region and the risk of encountering a tick in this area is low.

According to a map showing risk areas in Ontario, there is spillover from the City of Hamilton into the borders of Cambridge. 

"Blacklegged ticks are most active during the spring and summer months," Hutchinson wrote in the correspondence. "Ticks cannot fly or jump so they wait on low vegetation and attach themselves to people or animals as they pass by."

Residents can use the online tool eTick to submit a picture for identification of the tick, she wrote, adding the tool is not intended for diagnosis of Lyme disease. 
If the tick is identified as a blacklegged tick or the tick can not be identified, speak to your health care provider for medical advice.

Hutchinson also included in her email instructions for how people using trails can protect themselves from a tick bite.

  • Wear light-coloured clothing so it is easier to see ticks on your body.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Stay on the trail if you're hiking in a forested or grassy area.
  • Wear an insect repellent containing DEET or Icaridin. Always read the label for directions on how to use it.