Thursday, April 20, 2017

Feeling Ticklish?

I apologize for the egregious use of a lame pun as a post title. I am defenseless against the ease with which one can make puns with the word "tick". Even the national veterinary association has launched a "Tick Talk" (I can hear your groans from here) awareness campaign, complete with an entirely over-the-top horror themed ad:

I imagine that you have already heard a fair bit about ticks and about the diseases they transmit, so I'm not going to repackage that information for you here. The "Veterinary Partner" website ( is a trustworthy resource if you have specific questions. Instead I'm going to highlight a less often discussed aspect that is alluded to in the title: ticks going on people. More specifically, ticks going from your dog onto you.

Ticks are potential vectors for disease. The word vector just means transporter, a kind of living vessel that carries a disease causing organism from one animal to another. Most famously the deer, or black-legged, tick is a vector for the Borrelia organism that causes Lyme disease. But what we don't often consider is that your dog (and potentially, although quite rarely, your cat) could be a "vector for the vector", a kind of meta-vector, to coin a term. Most people with tick-magnet dogs - you know, the dogs that disappear into the tall grass and come back with twenty ticks on them - are already familiar with the phenomenon of later finding ticks in the house, presumably having fallen off the dog. This could theoretically happen with any dog, particularly if they have darker or longer fur, as ticks can be very difficult to spot unless you are making a point of checking carefully. While I could find no studies that looked at the actual incidence of this, it is reasonable to assume that any dog could accidentally bring a deer tick home that could then infect you with Lyme disease. 80% of humans who contract Lyme become ill, sometimes quite severely, whereas only ~10% of dogs do.

And if this isn't enough to make your skin begin to crawl*, the less harmful but equally creepy "brown dog tick" can actually reproduce and complete it's entire life cycle inside your house, causing a serious infestation. They like to crawl up walls and hang upside down. The good news for local readers here in Manitoba is that that tick is not, to the best of my knowledge, reported here ("wood ticks" are the other ones we see besides deer ticks), but we should remain alert as the American CDC considers it endemic in North Dakota and Minnesota, and it is common in Ontario.

Now I have totally freaked you out.

So let me conclude by trying to unfreak you. Fortunately this comes at a time when we finally have good tick medication. For years when people were concerned about ticks we would more or less shrug and say something along the lines of, "well, you could try this, it helps a bit". In the last two or three years new products have come along that are easy to administer, very safe and far more effective than the previous generation. I'll leave the specific recommendations regarding which product is best for your dog to your veterinarian. None are 100% perfect though, so I still recommend checking your dog over carefully after a walk on anything other than just the sidewalk, but at least now you have far less reason to feel... ticklish.

*Actually that crawling sensation you are feeling on your leg right now, or possibly in your scalp, is almost certainly not a tick as people generally can't feel them moving about. Sorry, I think I might have freaked you out again...;-)

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