Ticks in February?

Photo by DuxX/Shutterstock

Mild winter weather may have pet owners itching to hit the trail with their canine companions, but they should be aware that they’re not the only critters taking advantage of warmer than expected temperatures. Some pet owners report that their vets are now recommending keeping their dogs on tick-preventing medication year-round.

We talked to Katie Clow, assistant professor in One Health in the Department of Population Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph for her take. “If it’s above freezing, we should be thinking about ticks,” says Clow.

During the cold winter months, ticks spend most of their time buried down in leaf litter in the forest, says Clow, who helps lead Pets and Ticks. But if there’s limited snow cover and temperatures get warmer, they’re going to crawl out of that layer and come out to feed or at least look for a host, she says.

The general recommendation is that pets be on tick preventatives from April into November, says Clow, which are the months with the highest tick activity. Clow says if pet owners are interested in using tick preventative medication for their animals outside the warmer months, they should have a conversation with their veterinarian. 

Regardless of whether a dog is on tick prevention or not, pet owners can protect their canine companions by checking for ticks following any outdoor time. Clow recommends that owners remove any ticks from their animals as quickly as they can. Owners should use tick pullers or tweezers and make sure to pull the tick directly out of the animal, remove the tick’s mouthpiece in the process. 

Clow also stresses the importance of getting an identification on the removed tick. There are lots of ticks that will feed on dogs, she says. The predominate species to worry about is the blacklegged tick, which can carry the bacteria that cause tick-borne illnesses in dogs, including anaplasmosis and Lyme disease. To find out what tick they’ve come across, pet owners can take advantage of eTick.ca, a free public resource where users can submit photos of ticks for identification.

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Following tick removal, owners should monitor their dogs for symptoms. Clow says to be on the lookout for any signs the dog is not feeling well, such as not eating or being a little sore. Owners can also watch out for any signs of lameness or limping on a certain leg. “These are some of the first signs we see of Lyme disease,” says Clow, adding that they would prompt a visit to the vet right away.

If owners find that they’re repeatedly removing ticks off their dogs, it might be time to reconsider your walking route. “If you seem to be pulling ticks off your dog in certain areas consistently, stay out of those areas when it is peak tick activity: spring, fall, and warm times in the winter,” says Clow. 

For more information on pets and ticks, or to submit reports of tick findings on your pet through the Pet Tick Tracker, visit the Pets and Ticks site. More resources can be found on the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s Tick Talk site.

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