Dog owners issued warning as deer ticks move into Calgary backyards

Deer ticks have made the jump from the mountains to city backyards, putting your dog at risk of contracting Lyme disease in the summer heat.

Lyme disease risk for dogs just got higher

Calgary veteranarian Dr. Wendy McLelland and one of her patients. (@justforkixphoto )

Deer ticks no longer respect city limits.

That was the word Monday from Dr. Wendy McLelland, a Calgary veterinarian, who delivered the advice that no matter how much of a city dweller you and your pet are, this may be the summer to engage in a pre-emptive strike against Lyme disease.

"We are seeing an increase in the tick that causes Lyme disease — the deer tick — and it doesn't have to be in the mountains anymore," McLelland said in an interview on The Calgary Eyeopener.

"Even in the city where they don't leave the yard, they're getting ticks. There's more animals: birds transmit them. Deer transmit them. They get rides on these animals, so they can literally be anywhere.

"I had a chihuahua last week with a tick just from walking in a regular park."

McLelland said she doesn't consider flea and tick collars very useful protection, either.

"Definitely not. Especially for ticks. They don't work for fleas either," she said.

A blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick, is pictured in this undated photo from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (CDC/Associated Press)

Rather, she advised pet owners to check with their vet for alternatives.

"There's pills now — little chewy, tasty pills that you give once a month that I find work really well. There's topicals [creams] you can put on the back of the neck.

"But I'm really encouraging people just for that increase in Lyme disease and lots of ticks this year, because of the wetter weather in spring, that prevention is something you want to think about."

Inspecting your dog's fur for signs of ticks can help, too, although that can be time-consuming and even if the owner discovers the tick — as was the case with the chihuahua — it can be difficult to know how long the tick has been embedded into the pet (disease can be transmitted within 16 hours).

If you do find a tick, it's possible to remove it, McLelland said.

"Gentle pressure with tweezers if you hold right near the skin — or if you're nervous, take them to your  vet," she said.

"And there is a tick surveillance program in Alberta, so save the tick if you do get one and your vet can send it off and find out if it is the deer tick and if it is carrying Lyme disease."

Hot weather advice

McLelland also said to keep an eye for signs of heatstroke in dogs.

"Panting is a sign. And that's their only way — they lose a bit of heat through their paws — but the main way they regulate is through the panting."

But once they can't keep up with the panting, then you start to see the signs of excessive drooling, fever, they have brick red gums, lethargic — those are the main signs of heat stroke.

Gino the Pomeranian pants in the heat in a square in downtown Toronto. Experts say it's best to watch for signs of heat stroke in hot temperatures. (Muriel Draaisma/CBC)

She also said not to wait until the city gets put under a heat warning, the way it was Monday.

"They can (suffer)  at any temperature. It really depends where they're at — is humidity a factor? No shade in the  yard? So you just really have to be conscientious that your yard — if they're out for any amount of time — has shade, and really don't let them out for a large amount of time on these [days with] really hot temperatures."


With files from The Calgary Eyeopener

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca