Most Dangerous Disease Carrying Ticks You Can Find In Canada
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Most Dangerous Disease Carrying Ticks You Can Find In Canada

Reading time: 8 minutes

Ticks have become a growing concern across various regions in Canada. Commonly found in tall grasses, wooded areas and leaf litter, these small yet formidable creatures threaten humans and animals.

In Canada alone, there are over 40 species of ticks. Climate change has increased the tick population, leading to a massive infestation surge. Unfortunately, ticks multiply fast and can transmit deadly diseases such as Lyme disease, babesiosis and anaplasmosis.

Let’s understand the most common ticks to beware of to stay safe and for better tick pest control.

Tick Close Up
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1. The Black-legged (deer) tick - Ixodes Scapularis

Black-legged Tick
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Black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks, are an eight-legged, blood-sucking arachnid. Often, as small as a sesame or poppy seed, they can be hard to detect. With a painless bite, most hosts would be unaware that a tick is feeding and growing on them.

As they travel on migrating birds, black-legged ticks are spread across Canada. Just like any other tick, they need warmer temperatures and a host to feed on to survive and reproduce. The cold weather in Canada may have successfully slowed down their growth over the past years. However, with climate change, they now pose a greater threat as they travel from birds to deer to pets and humans.

Most active in early spring or fall when adults, the larvae and nymph feed on birds and small animals between May and September. A female black-legged tick has the capacity to lay 4,000 eggs when well-fed.

Infected black-legged ticks can transmit life-threatening diseases like Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, or Possowan’s virus. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), there have been 17,080 human cases of Lyme disease between 2009 and 2022. This disease can be life-threatening and lead to cardiac and neurological problems if left untreated. On the other hand, Babesiosis can cause renal, liver and heart failure as well as respiratory distress.

2. Rocky Mountain Wood Tick - Dermacentor Andersoni

Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
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The Rocky Mountain Wood Tick is a hard, large, reddish brown tick. It is primarily found in the Rocky Mountain range and is a hard, three-host tick. This means that during each stage of its cycle—from being a larva to a nymph and finally an adult—it feeds on separate hosts.

In open habitats with grazing stocks or green spaces for hiking, domestic animals tend to become victims of this tick infestation. While the tick is seasonal and hunts for a host in early summer or spring, the adult tick targets large mammals such as dogs, livestock and people.

Adult wood ticks are active in the region from January to November. The larvae and the nymphs are mostly encountered between June and August. Accustomed to the mountainous climate, adult wood ticks can survive up to 600 days without feeding.

They multiply fast, too. A female wood tick can lay up to 6,000 eggs after feeding off a host for 4–17 days. Male wood ticks feed for shorter periods only to initiate sperm production and then seek to attach to a female tick.

The tick bite and infestation are hard to detect and may go unnoticed as they have no clinical symptoms. However, the female tick bite contains a salivary neurotoxin that can cause tick paralysis in people and animals alike. It can also transmit pathogens for diseases such as the Colorado tick fever virus (CTFV), Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), rickettsia and tularaemia to animals and people.

3. American Dog Tick - Dermacentor Variabilis

American Dog Tick
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Much like the wood tick, the American Dog Tick is a large reddish brown to grey-brown tick. Being a hard tick, it also has a three-host lifecycle and usually needs microscopic examination to be differentiated from the wood tick.

Found in most of North America, this tick can be found in grassy fields, along forest edges, on trails and sidewalks and in areas with little to no vegetation.

You’re probably thinking, so dog ticks may only be a threat to dogs. But that’s not true. The dog tick targets small mammals like mice, chipmunks and squirrels when small, and larger mammals like deer, cattle, opossums, skunks and raccoons when an adult. At any given opportunity, this tick would even feed on a human! Even without a host, this tick can survive up to 2 years.

Most active in April–August, the adult ticks lay low for the remaining time in tall grass and twigs. From May–August, the larvae and nymphs are active.

What’s the easiest way to recognize them? Engorgement. When spotted on a host, dog ticks can be engorged with blood. While male ticks are less likely to do that and would detach in a day or two to find a female for mating, the female ticks can take a week or more before detachment. Once they detach, these female ticks lay over 4,000 eggs before dying. Quite a nasty fallout!

The American dog tick is also known to transmit pathogens for tularemia and the Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you’ve identified the primary ticks, let’s dig deeper to understand how to handle ticks, stay safe and help others around you.

What is the usual life cycle of a tick?

The tick life cycle has four stages and can take 1–3 years to complete under natural conditions. The first stage is eggs that are laid in thousands together. The second stage is that they hatch into a larva. Once fed, it grows into a nymph and ultimately develops into an adult tick in stage 4. If unfed, the tick does not die immediately, as it can hibernate for up to a year in pursuit of finding a host and evolve to the next stage.

What is the size of a tick, and how do you spot it?

Ticks can be difficult to spot and quickly infest a mammal or rodent as they can be 0.1–6mm based on their stage. When fully fed and grown, female ticks can be the size of a pea.

Look for a small black dot if you’ve been outdoors in grasslands, mountainous ranges and grazing lands. Usually, it’ll be found at odd places like between the toes, under the arms, in or around the ears, in the belly button, on the head or in the hair, on the waist or back, at times, even around the groin area. Keep an eye out, and don’t ignore small spots; gently scratch and check.

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How do you spot ticks on your pet?

Domestic animals and pets are more likely to get fleas and ticks due to their environmental exposure, so it’s important to keep their hygiene in check. Make pet flea and tick control a priority to prevent harm to your pet, kids and other family members.

Using your hand like a comb, starting from the head, run your fingers around your pet’s body to detect lumps or bumps. Examine toes, tails, ear insides, the pet collar and the groin area.

If you detect a tick, what’s the right way to remove it?

If you detect a tick, don’t panic. Do not try to pull, pluck or burn it. As ticks are firmly attached to the skin with barbed mouthparts, any pull above the mouth will likely keep the mouth and risk intact. The right way to go about this is:

  • Use tweezers to gently pull it right from the mouth.
  • Go as close to the skin as possible while not crushing the tick.
  • Once successfully done, disinfect the bite area.
  • Dispose of the tick by sealing it in tape or a bag before flushing it down the toilet or putting it in alcohol.

If you cannot remove it or there are too many, always seek professional help and visit a doctor or vet.

If the tick has remained attached for too long and you notice symptoms like difficulty in walking, breathing or, in general, mobility, it can be a condition called tick paralysis. While it’s reversible with the tick removal, appropriate medical attention will be needed.

How to practice tick prevention and control?

As ticks can stay active in temperatures as low as 4° C, they constantly challenge tick control in Canada. Keeping in mind how prone they are to survival, the easiest way to avoid ticks is to avoid the habitat they are found in. Tick habitat can be vegetation, grasslands, woodlands and fields, especially from mid-spring to the start of fall. This way, you can avoid immobile ticks waiting for passing mammals.

If you must move in these areas during peak season, practice precautions like wearing light clothing and keeping yourself well covered. Wearing long pants and socks will help evade attachment through contact, whereas light-coloured clothing will help immediately detect anything that has caught on to you. You can also use tick repellents on your clothing or your skin for extra measure.

Ticks are evolving and expanding at the range of 46 km per year. To ensure protection, explore more DIY tick control methods or seek options for professional tick control near you.

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How Buzz Boss Can Help

Buzz Boss offers eco-friendly tick control options in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Regina, Red Deer, Saskatoon and Okanagan.

During the service, our technicians make a complete inventory of the pests and problem areas in your yard and then implement a treatment plan that focuses on quality, environmentally friendly products that will keep your family and pets safe.

Check out our tick control packages here.

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