Residents of New England have been carrying out routine tick checks for years but their neighbours to the north, in Ontario, might also need to get into the habit as parts of southern Ontario and eastern Ontario have been colonised by blacklegged ticks, the vector for Lyme disease. When a walk in the woods can lead to Lyme disease it’s wise to check yourself and your dog(s) for ticks upon your return home.
Climate Change Pushes Ticks to Ontario
Most of Ontario is thought to be tick-free, at least in regards to Lyme disease-carrying ticks. However, tick hotspots include the Kingston-Thousand Islands area and some parks and areas of land on the shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Experts cite climate change as the reason for this northerly march of the ticks as milder weather allows the ticks to survive in areas that were previously too cold.
Ticks in Fall
Animals such as mice, squirrels, shrews, birds, and deer may all act as hosts for these ticks, so anyone frequenting areas where such wildlife live, or living somewhere that attracts these animals is likely to encounter ticks. As fall is upon us many begin to stockpile firewood, rake up leaves, and leave the grass to tend to itself over winter. Animals may be drawn in by cosy piles of leaves and wood, meaning that simple yard work can expose you to tick bites. Keeping potential animal habitats away from the house can help decrease the risk of ticks on your property.
More Ticks and More Infected with Lyme Disease
Tick numbers are still thought to be relatively low in Ontario but they are increasing, with Professors Claire Jardine and Lisa Werden, in the Department of Pathobiology at Guelph University, noted that the number of ticks in the Thousand Islands almost quadrupled in some areas between 2009 and 2011. What’s more, a higher proportion of ticks are carrying Lyme disease bacteria, with some 17% of ticks tested and found infected in 2012. In Long Point the rates of infection are a staggering 60%.
Ticks and Dogs in Ontario
Veterinarians are frequently kept busy with tick-related issues in their clinics in Kingston, while those in the centre of Toronto may only see a tick once or twice a year as dogs in the area have limited exposure to other host animals. Luckily veterinarians are able to administer a test for Lyme disease infection that has been added to some test kits for heartworm. Many dogs testing positive for Lyme disease remain asymptomatic but in some the disease can be severe and even fatal.
If you find a tick on your dog or on yourself then it is important to remove it as quickly as possible. Learn how to safely remove a tick and decrease your risk of Lyme disease and remember that ticks exist in Ontario!