New research shows dog ticks can be as harmful as deer ticks

There’s a common belief that Canadians only need to worry about the Lyme disease-carrying deer tick. But according to new research, dog ticks also carry harmful bacteria that can be dangerous to humans.

According to Amal El Nabbout, a biology master’s student at Dalhousie University, dog ticks—scientifically known as dermacentor variabilis—can also transfer illnesses to humans.

“For dog ticks, usually people think it’s not a problem—[that] they don’t cause anything—but in fact there’s a list of diseases that will never end,” El Nabbout said in an interview with the CBC.

As part of her thesis, El Nabbout has found that 60 percent of the dog ticks she’s studied carry the rickettsia bacteria, which can cause the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomitting, and muscle pain. If not treated in the first few days of symptoms, the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be fatal in humans.

“For dog ticks, once their mouth parts are inside your skin, you can get the bacteria right away because the bacteria is present in their salivary glands as well as their intestines,” said El Nabbout.

Biologist Tatiana Rossolimo, who is El Nabbout’s thesis advisor, told the CBC that the number of ticks in Nova Scotia appears to be increasing.

The most important way to protect yourself from ticks this spring and summer is through awareness.

“People have to know that there are ticks and that they are carrying different bacterias and viruses and that when you are coming back from field trip or hiking you have to check yourself, just to get undressed and to check your body,” Rossolimo.

To prevent all kinds of tick bites, wear long pants tucked into socks when in wooded areas and use DEET bug repellents. Shower as soon as possible after coming indoors, conduct a full-body tick check, and examine any gear and clothing for the pests.