West coast veterinarian expects hard ticks population to grow in province
Proper precautions recommended for people and their pets
Newfoundland and Labrador has no reported cases of soft ticks, but there is an established growing population of hard ticks, thought to have been introduced by migrating songbirds.
Ticks were never found in this province, but that all changed in 2000, and statistics compiled by the provincial government indicate there will be a rise in the numbers moving forward.
Michael Tipple, a Corner Brook veterinarian, wants to educate the public on the presence of ticks and what preventative measures can be taken to deal with the small, wingless arthropods.
The species of hard tick of most concern to people in this province is the blacklegged tick (ixodes scapularis) because it can carry the bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes Lyme disease in both domestic animals and people.
For the west coast in 2015, there were 23 ticks submitted to the provincial government for testing. Sixteen of them were blacklegged ticks, but none of them tested positive for Lyme disease. The following year, there were 25 ticks sent to the laboratory for testing. Seventeen of them were blacklegged ticks, and four of them tested positive for Lyme disease.
Given the increasing number of ticks, the incidents of potentially having a tick carrying Lyme disease is higher, according to Tipple.
For people who have never heard of or seen them before, blacklegged ticks cannot jump or fly. Instead, they seek hosts by climbing on vegetation such as grasses or shrubs and waiting for a host to rub against them. When this occurs, they climb onto the host’s body and eventually attempt to attach and feed.
Their preferred habitat is dark, moist, brushy, wooded or weedy areas along hiking trails and in grassy fields. They feed by attaching their mouth to the skin of an animal or human and drinking blood very slowly over a period of days.
Tipple says a tick bite is generally painless and, even if bitten by a blacklegged tick, the likelihood of disease transmission is not a certainty. First, not all blacklegged ticks are infested with disease causing agents and, secondly, they need time to prepare their bodies to significantly expand with blood and often don’t start to feed for the first 24 hours after attaching themselves to a host. Therefore, transmission of the bacteria causing Lyme disease typically requires a minimum attachment period of at least 24 hours, which is why Tipple says performing a tick check is so important.
Dogs are susceptible to tick bites and tickborne diseases and can be hard to detect. Some of the signs to look for, according to Tipple, include irritation at the bite site including redness, inflammation, chewing, scratching and selftrauma.
He suggests pet owners talk to their veterinarian about the yearly Lyme vaccine for their dog.
Corner Brook veterinarian Michael Tipple demonstrates how to check for ticks on dogs at the Humber Valley Veterinarian Clinic in the Millbrook Mall in Corner Brook.