Saskatchewan

With another tick season here, Sask. experts offer advice on how to keep the bloodsuckers away

Ticks are real-world vampires, and unfortunately, pretty active in Saskatchewan. Experts from the University of Saskatchewan try to keep track of what kind of parasites bite people and their pets in the province.

'It does anecdotally feel like we're having a pretty big tick year this year,' says U of Sask. professor

Most of the ticks in Saskatchewan are dog ticks, also known as wood ticks. (Adamlusk/Wikimedia Commons)

Ticks are real-world vampires, and unfortunately, pretty active in Saskatchewan — particularly this year, says one expert.

"I can't fully compare the years, but it does anecdotally feel like we're having a pretty big tick year this year," said Dr. Emily Jenkins, from the department of veterinary microbiology at the University of Saskatchewan.

Jenkins and her colleagues have shifted to a new method to track what kind of parasites are biting people and their pets in the province.

In the past, the researchers have relied on people mailing tick samples in. Now, people have the option of using a new app-based system to make submissions.

By mid-June, Jenkins and her colleagues had already received up to 1,400 submissions through the new eTick platform, compared to a total of 1,500 submissions in 2018 and 1,900 in 2019.

 With ticks here for another season, there are different ways to fend off the bloodsuckers.

While the government of Saskatchewan recommends using insect repellent containing DEET or icaridin, there has been some research into natural products.

Natural tick repellents

The World Wide Web is full of all-natural tick repellent options.

One example is garlic, which has a reputation for fighting off bloodsuckers. The city of Kingston, Ont., started a pilot project in 2018 spraying certain areas with a 100 per cent natural garlic-based product, aiming to keep both ticks and mosquitoes away. General feedback has been positive so far, according to the city. 

A scientist from Regina also had positive results with garlic.

"We have land out in the Qu'Appelle Valley and we were having a bunch of friends from the U.S. camping with us," said Tanya Dahms, a professor with the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Regina.

She made a mixture containing "onion, garlic, cayenne … and a couple other things," which she then sprayed around her camping area.

"It really, really, really minimized the number of ticks that we saw."

Essential oils 

A 2019 study in England looked into the effectiveness of some essential oils as natural alternatives to synthetic tick repellents. The results of the study suggest oregano and spearmint oils show potential as repellents when used on clothing.

"What I would recommend doing is taking thyme, mint, oregano and rosemary oil, putting them into an alcohol and then just spraying them on the bottom of your pants," said Dahms.

People should be careful, though, when mixing their own all-natural repellents. High amounts of essential oils can burn the skin, Dahms said, so they need to be diluted and put on clothing, rather than the bare skin.

Natural repellents for pets

Natural versus medicated tick prevention is a hot topic among pet owners. Jenkins says there is a rising amount of good literature on what plant products might work, but she advises pet owners to be cautious of trying out home-made natural repellents. 

"Until there is something commercially available, I would probably steer away from the interweb's vast resources," said Jenkins. 

"All of these things are active compounds one way or another. Some could actually be toxic in dogs and cats."

While humans probably won't lick their skin, Jenkins said, it's hard to stop your pets from doing that. 

"Even if these products are perfectly safe on the skin, they may not be perfectly safe when your pet licks them off themselves."

Some pet stores and grooming salons make their own all-natural products. They seem quite popular, according to one store owner in Saskatoon.

People who are interested in natural alternatives might want to consult with their vet before using any kind of tick repellent product on their dog or cat, especially if they are not fully tested and approved. 

Other natural options to avoid tick bites

People can also adapt their behaviour in order to avoid ticks. 

Staying away from areas with tall grass or lots of shrubs is just one example. People should also shower right away after a trip into the wild to wash off any loose ticks.

While ticks might survive a ride in the washing machine, the dryer is a great way to kill ticks on clothes. 

Saskatchewanians who want to make sure their backyard is tick-free can drag a white towel behind them across the yard and see if any ticks attach themselves. It's an easy way to check for ticks, and works even better if the towel smells like a dog.

Lyme disease

The danger of Lyme disease is low in Saskatchewan. According to Jenkins, out of up to 1,400 submissions, they only found two Lyme disease-spreading ticks (ixodes scapularis) — one in Regina and one in Saskatoon.

American dog ticks are usually not capable of transmitting Lyme disease to people. (Theresa Kliem/CBC)

The majority of ticks found in Saskatchewan are American dog ticks, which don't transmit Lyme disease. 

Other areas in Canada, though, host more Lyme disease ticks, so extra caution is needed when travelling. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Theresa Kliem

Journalist

Theresa Kliem is a journalist with CBC Saskatoon. She is an immigrant to Canada and loves telling stories about people in Saskatchewan. Email theresa.kliem@cbc.ca.

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