Protecting yourself and your pets against ticks.
Here in southern Ontario, the warmer weather has finally arrived. With the sun shining, I'm certainly eager to get out with my dogs for some good quality fresh air, and I bet you are too!
At this time of year, most species of ticks also start to become active again in search of a meal (aka blood). Different life stages of ticks will be active at different times of the year and this will vary by geographic area. Regardless, it is important to start thinking about being proactive and protecting yourself and your pets before venturing out.
Fortunately, for our dogs, there are several highly effective tick preventatives available through your veterinarian. Now is a great time to make an appointment (if you haven't already) to talk about the best option for your dog, given where you live and your dog's lifestyle.
For us, we sadly don't have a pill that we can take to ward off ticks. That means that we need to be vigilant with some protective measures whenever heading into wooded, brushy and grassy areas, where we may encounter different species of ticks. Here are the best things you can do:
Wear light-coloured clothing that covers your legs and arms. The light colour allows ticks to be seen more easily so you can quickly remove them. Covering up means less skin is exposed where ticks can attach.
Stick to the marked trails and avoid going into the dense, brushy areas. When ticks 'quest' (look for a blood meal), they crawl up onto the vegetation and wait. So if you avoid these spots, you are much less likely to come into contact with them.
Consider applying an insect repellent. Although not fully effective, products containing DEET or Icaridin can deter ticks. Make sure to read the label first.
[*MOST IMPORTANT*] Conduct a thorough tick check when you get home. Make sure to look all over your body. Ticks can be found anywhere on your body, and especially like warm, moist areas. It can be very helpful to have a partner look in the more challenging areas (or use a mirror). Having a warm shower is also a good idea. The water won't wash off a tick that has attached but the action of showering can be help you notice any 'bumps' that were not there the day before.
If you do find a tick on you, make sure to remove it properly (see diagram here) and speak with your healthcare provider.
Conducting a thorough tick check on your dog, even if he/she is on a tick preventative, is also important.
Whenever I deliver public talks, people always say "you're telling us all this scary stuff about ticks, why would I want to go outside now?" I'm happy when people ask this question, because it helps me clarify our messaging. Getting outdoors has so many health benefits, for us and our furry friends. The message is not to avoid nature. The message is to be aware of the risks and take the proper precautions so we can continue to enjoy nature.