The snowfall we had on the weekend notwithstanding, spring is here. As the weather warms up in Ontario (and other regions), we have to once again think more about ticks. Once the temperature reaches ~4C, hungry ticks that didn’t feed in the fall will come out, looking for food. Accordingly, tick prevention for people and pets needs to be considered.
The return of ticks also means the return of pet tick preventative advertising, and that’s leading to confusion and questions. The “Lone Star Louie” ads, in particular, are leading to a rash (pardon the pun) of emails. They focus on the Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum), but also include some confusing, mixed and misleading messaging, talking about this tick in dogs, red meat allergy and Lyme disease.
First, the concern about the A. americanum…
The Lone Star tick is an aggressive tick that can spread a few different diseases. We’re paying more attention to it in Ontario now because we expect it to become a problem over time. We see small numbers every year, and so far we’ve assumed that these are ticks have been carried north by migrating birds. Established populations (i.e. finding all life stages of the tick at a particular location, typically over at least a two year period) have not been recognized in the province (yet). However, we’re on the look out for it through initiatives such as our Pet Tick Tracker.
Next… questions about the advertising
Red meat allergy
- This is a really interesting story but one that has no relevance to dogs and cats. Lone Star tick bites can result in an acquired red meat allergy in people. It’s uncommon, but bites from this tick can result in sensitization of peoples’ immune systems to a protein that’s found in red meat. People can get sensitized to it because it’s not a component of their bodies. In contrast, dogs and cats are made of that protein, so they can’t develop the same kind of red meat allergy (i.e. an allergy to themselves). So, while it’s a concern with this tick, it’s of no relevance to dogs and cats, and dogs and cats do not lead to people being exposed to the tick or developing the meat allergy.
- Lyme disease gets mentioned in the ad too, but this tick does not harbour the bacterium that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi). That particular pathogen is most often carried by black-legged ticks (e.g. Ixodes scapularis).
So, the Lone Star tick is a concern (albeit still a minimal one in Ontario). However, red meat allergy messaging is irrelevant to marketing tick preventives for dogs and cats, and Lyme disease is not a risk from this tick. Tick prevention is important in dogs (and to a lesser degree cats) and the use of tick preventative medicine is an easy and effective way of reducing the risks associated with ticks. The messaging needs to be better, though, to avoid confusion and misinformation.