London

Tick that causes red meat allergy found on London cat

The lone star tick has made headlines around the world for causing people to develop a sudden and permanent allergy to red meat — and a local veterinarian says it's right here in London.

Veterinarian Dr. Gillian Egli says the lone star tick is rare in this part of the country

London veterinarian Dr. Gillian Egli says one of her clients brought in a tick they found on their cat, which was later identified as the infamous lone star tick. (Steve Heap/Shutterstock)

A species of tick that can make humans allergic to red meat has made its way to London.

Dr. Gillian Egli, a veterinarian and the owner of the Oakridge Animal Clinic, was asked to identify a tick one of her clients found on their cat two weeks ago.

"We have a special microscope that helps us to see ticks up close and we were shocked to see that this was in fact a lone star tick," Egli said.

The lone star tick, named for the white spot on its back, has made headlines around the world for causing people to develop a sudden and permanent allergy to red meat, but Egli said it's unusual to see the species in this part of the country. 

"I wouldn't say that this indicates that it's endemic to the area but, yes, we are hearing more and more that this type of tick is being found in the area," she said.

Egli said the cat that was bitten by the tick lives in the Medway Creek area. 

According to the Middlesex-London Health Unit, one lone star tick has been found in London this year. That doesn't include the tick Egli found, which she said has not been reported to the health unit yet.

The health unit says two lone star ticks were found in 2015, 2016 and 2018, and six were reported in 2017.

The lone star tick is identified by the white dot on its back. The species has been known to cause a sudden allergy to meat in humans and can transmit bacteria like ehrlichia to pets. (James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control/Associated Press)

The arachnids likely came on the wings of migratory birds or on the backs of animals crossing the border, Egli explained. 

"Most likely the ticks that are being found right now are brought to Canada in this fashion, but what scares us is the potential for them to become established here," she said.

Unlike its cousin, the black-legged deer tick, the lone star is less likely to transmit Lyme disease — although Egli said it is still possible.

The lone star tick can also transmit a number of different diseases to pets, including ehrlichia, a type of bacteria that can cause fever, lethargy, abnormal bruising and bleeding or neurological abnormalities in dogs, according to PetMD.

Prevention the best defence

The best line of defence, Egli said, is to prevent the tick from attaching to the skin. There are products on the market that will repel ticks or kill them after biting.

"Another big aspect of prevention is just to be aware, to check yourself, to check your animal," she said. "If you do identify a tick, then bring your dog or your animal to your veterinarian and you can have help removing the tick."

If you have to remove one yourself, Egli recommends wearing gloves and grasping the tick close to where it has attached to the body, pulling gently but firmly straight outwards.

She also advises against using alcohol or essential oils for an important — albeit gross — reason.

"These are effective at removing the tick, but they upset the tick and the tick will vomit or regurgitate the stomach contents into the human or the animal, increasing your risk for disease," she said.

"They often don't start transmitting until after 24 hours, but that will speed up the process if we make them mad."

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