It's tick season in Manitoba, and dogs are just as susceptible to Lyme disease

It’s not just those of us walking around on two legs that need to be wary of ticks as the weather warms up this summer.

Catching disease early is important, and chewable products like NexGard, Simparica can help keep pooches safe

Dogs are also at risk of getting Lyme disease from tick bites, and pet owners should take precautions, says a Winnipeg veterinarian. (Shutterstock)

It's not just those of us walking around on two legs that need to be wary of ticks as the weather warms up this summer.

Dogs are also susceptible to illnesses like Lyme disease carried by the pesky parasites. That means dog owners should take precautions, says veterinarian, Dr. Jonas Watson.

"This is the season that ticks are coming out and people, pet owners, are reporting finding ticks on their dogs and on themselves," Watson told CBC News.

"Depending on a dog's likelihood of exposure to ticks, pet owners are advised to talk to their veterinarians about whether certain tick and flea control products might be suitable for their pets."

Winnipeg veterinarian Dr. Jonas Watson says dog owners should be wary of ticks as the weather warms up. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Lyme disease is caused by a type of bacteria transmitted to humans and dogs through the bite of an infected tick, such as the blacklegged tick and western blacklegged tick.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recorded 992 human cases of Lyme disease in the country in 2016, up from just 144 cases recorded countrywide in 2009.

"Lyme disease is a serious disease for sure. It can absolutely be a life-threatening disease," said Watson.

"It affects the kidneys, it affects the joints, it's a multi-systemic kind of a disease that can in some cases be fatal if treatment is not undertaken quickly."

Blacklegged ticks on march

Watson said climate change is causing the blacklegged tick to expand its territory into Manitoba, something the province said is contributing an increase in diagnosed tick-borne disease cases.

While he rarely sees clinical cases of Lyme disease in dogs at his veterinary clinic here in Winnipeg, Watson said it's much different for his colleagues in rural Manitoba, where animals are more likely to come into contact with disease-carrying ticks.

Veterinarians diagnose Lyme disease in pets quite regularly, especially in the spring and beginning of summer, said Watson.

Blacklegged ticks — also known as deer ticks — may spread Lyme disease. (CDC/Associated Press)

Symptoms in dogs include malaise, joint pain, joint swelling, and abnormalities with urination. If something seems off — they may not want to eat or suddenly seem lethargic — pet owners should take their pooch to a vet.

Watson said Lyme disease is usually treatable, especially when caught early. Treatment usually includes weeks of antibiotics.

Prevent the bite

But there's also things dog owners can do to prevent the bit in the first place.

At-risk dogs, including pups that spend longer periods of time in long grass or on farms in rural areas, can wear plastic tick and flea collars that use insecticide to encourage the ticks to jump off the dog, hopefully before they bite, said Watson.

But for more protection, Watson said, dog owners may consider newer, chewable tablets that kill ticks after the bite.

He said he's seen a gradual decrease in the numbers of dogs testing positive for Lyme antibodies at his clinic over the last five years since the chewable products hit the market.

Chewable products, like NexGard and Simparica, can help keep dogs safe from ticks, said Watson. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"They are more costly than collars, so if you've been satisfied with how collars have worked for your dogs you may not be inclined to change that," he said of the chewables.

"But people looking for something that we're having a really good experience with in terms of safety, in terms of efficacy, then I think chewable products … are all very good options for pet owners" 

Watson recommends talking to your vet about what will work best to protect your pet.

To date, Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living has no confirmed cases of tick-borne disease this year, and the agency doesn't track cases in dogs or other pets.

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With files from Alana Cole