Get Involved: New study uses citizen science to track tick migration and behaviour in Canada

Veterinary researchers have relied on varying forms of citizen science, the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the public, typically as part of a collaborative project with scientists, for centuries. The launch of a new online tool at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) is asking pet owners and primary care veterinarians to help monitor and track the spread of ticks in Canada.

Scott Weese, a veterinary internal medicine specialist and OVC Pet Trust-funded researcher, has developed a new website called Pet Tick Tracker. The tool serves as a portal to gather informa
tion from participants on tick 
sightings. Weese says the data
 will ultimately be used to better 
understand how ticks and the 
potential for tick-bourne diseases,
 such as Lyme disease, are spreading 
across Ontario and the rest of the country. The information will help identify trends and future areas of research, which may lead to a better understanding of Lyme disease in pets and people.

The online tool has already had more than 1,700 reports filed. Pet owners and veterinarians alike can visit the website when they discover a tick on their pet. They’re asked to enter detailed information including the type of animal from which the tick was removed, the number of ticks found on the pet, the date the tick was removed and the location where the pet was likely to have picked up the tick. Individuals are also asked to identify the species of tick using an online chart with images that help decipher what type of tick was found on their pet. The black-legged tick, also known as a deer tick, is most common in Ontario. It is the bacterium transmitted by this type of tick that causes Lyme disease in both pets and people if the tick attaches itself to the body for at least 24 hours.

“Currently, ticks and Lyme disease are common around the north shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, as well as a few other areas, but new ‘risk regions’ are emerging and the Pet Tick Tracker is helping us follow these developments as they happen,” says Weese.

“The hope is data could serve as an early warning system,” notes Weese, whose research team has already noticed signs of the Lone Star tick, a tick which experts have largely considered rare to the area, popping up in various parts of Ontario.

Weese works with field researchers who travel to hot spots to conduct surveillance once ticks have been identified. He also works closely with public health officials to monitor what’s happening in human health.

“While dogs are more commonly exposed to ticks than people, they seem to be more resistant to the bacterium that causes Lyme disease than humans are,” he says. “The tracker could also serve as an alert system through human health channels.”

The aim is to increase owner education on ticks, as well as provide timely information to veterinarians in regions where ticks are starting to emerge. Weese says owners should consult with their family veterinarian on what type of preventive protection is best for their pet.


READ more in the Fall issue of OVC Pet Trust's Best Friends Magazine, the pet magazine of the Ontario Veterinary College.