Ticks are prevalent on hiking trails throughout Ontario, so it’s important to know how to avoid ticks while hiking. While it isn’t a great experience to have a tick burrowed into your skin, some ticks are worse than others. Some spread Lyme disease, which can be a very serious illness.
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In order to protect yourself from ticks on the trails, I’m writing this informative and easy to follow guide. By taking some simple protective measures, you can safely avoid ticks while exploring the great outdoors. I’ll show you the best way to avoid ticks, what to wear while hiking to protect yourself from ticks, and so much more.
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What are the Types of Ticks in Ontario?
There are currently three kinds of ticks that you’ll find in Ontario: the Blacklegged Tick (Deer Tick), the American Dog Tick, and the Lone Star Tick. Out of the two, the Dog Tick is the most common and the Blacklegged Tick is second most common. The Blacklegged Tick is the one that we need to be most concerned about because it can carry and transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
Ticks are very small and it can be difficult to see them. They can be as small as a poppy seed and as large as a small grape when engorged. It can be tough to tell the species of ticks apart when they’re so small! Here are some key identifiers and reasons why we need to be most concerned about the Blacklegged Tick.
Blacklegged Tick / Deer Tick
Blacklegged Ticks are the ticks that can spread Lyme disease, but only if they are infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. It’s important to remember that not all ticks can spread Lyme disease, and not all Blacklegged ticks can spread Lyme disease either. However, if you have been bit by a Blacklegged tick, it’s important to go to the doctor as soon as possible.
Here are a few more facts about Blacklegged Ticks, including how to tell them apart from other ticks:
- They are usually found in forested areas (although they can be carried by birds and animals, so they could potentially end up anywhere)
- Most active in early spring and late fall
- They do not have any white markings on their bodies
- They can be extremely tiny
American Dog Tick
American Dog Ticks are the most common ticks on Ontario hiking trails, and they do not transmit Lyme disease. Regardless, it’s still not great to have a tick burrowed into your skin, although it isn’t as potentially damaging as coming across Blacklegged ticks. Here are some ways to identify the American Dog Tick:
- They typically live amongst long grass and tree cover
- Most active in the spring and summer months
- Reddish brown, usually have white or silver markings
- Approximately the size of an apple seed
Lone Star Tick
The Lone Star Tick is a rarer type of tick that isn’t found as often in Ontario. Sometimes they are carried here on migrating birds. Much like the American Dog Tick, they’re most active in the spring and summer, and they’re about the size of an apple seed. They also live on tall grass and tree cover. Female Lone Star Ticks have a silver-white spot or “lone star” marking on their backs, and male Lone Star Ticks have white spots on their backs.
What is Lyme Disease and How is it Contracted?
Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. This infectious disease is spread by the bite of infected Blacklegged ticks. As ticks need blood to survive, they will attach to animals in order to feed. Ticks become infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria when they feed on infected birds and rodents. Then, the ticks pass this bacteria on to humans and pets, especially dogs.
In order for the Lyme disease bacteria to be transmitted from tick to human, the infected tick must be attached and feed for at least 24 hours. This is why it’s imperative that we check our bodies after each hike for ticks. Even if you do find one that’s present on you, you are less likely to get Lyme disease the quicker you remove the tick from your body.
Tick bites are often painless. The ticks can be so small that you may not see them or know that you’ve been bit. Lyme disease cannot be spread from human to human. You also can’t be infected by your pet. However, a pet can bring ticks into your home where you’ll have a better chance of being bitten by a tick.
The risk of getting Lyme Disease in Ontario is relatively low, but the amount of disease-transmitting ticks grows every year. The regions where they live also grows every year.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The symptoms of Lyme disease vary from person to person, and can show up between 3 and 30 days of being bitten by an infected Blacklegged tick. You may have mild flu-like symptoms. Here are some other symptoms that you might end up having:
- A rash that’s sometimes shaped like a bullseye
- Headache, fatigue, fever, chills, muscle and joint aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
If left untreated, Lyme disease can be very serious. You can be affected for years. Lyme disease can cause severe headaches, facial paralysis, heart disorders, neurological disorders, arthritis with severe joint pain, and more.
Where do Ticks Live in Ontario?
Unfortunately, ticks live all over Ontario. There are hotspots for Blacklegged ticks that carry Lyme disease, as you can see in the above tick map. If you’re looking for how to avoid ticks while hiking, you can try hiking outside of the yellow areas. Even still, this won’t guarantee that you won’t come across any ticks.
Blacklegged ticks live throughout Niagara region, Hamilton, the Greater Toronto Area (especially in east Toronto), the Windsor area, southeastern Ontario, and even around Thunder Bay. While the probability is low, there is a chance of coming into contact with blacklegged ticks almost anywhere in Ontario if you’re visiting wooded or brushy areas.
How to Avoid Ticks While Hiking
While it might seem almost inevitable that you end up with a tick or two on you, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. These are the best ways to avoid ticks while hiking, and it doesn’t require too much planning or care in advance.
Clothing to Wear to Avoid Ticks
Choose your clothing wisely as it can make all the difference. Wear closed footwear (not sandals) and socks. Tuck your pants into your socks. Wear a long-sleeved shirt tucked into long pants. Light coloured clothing also helps because you will be able to see the ticks easier.
If you insist on wearing shorts or tank tops, you will just need to check yourself more often. Gaiters are also a great way to protect yourself from picking up ticks on your ankles and legs. Choosing proper clothing and accessories can go a long way when you’re seeking how to avoid ticks while hiking.
When you get home, place your outdoor clothing in the dryer for an hour on high heat before washing to kill any ticks that you might not see. As ticks thrive in wet environments, you’ll kill them in the dryer.
Arm Yourself With Tick Repellent
In Canada, you can use a tick repellent with DEET or icaridin on your exposed skin or clothing. In the USA, you can buy products with permethrin, a fabric insect repellent treatment. Even though permethrin products aren’t for sale in Canada, they are approved for safety in Canada. Many people will buy these in the USA (many aren’t able to be shipped to Canada).
DEET repellent will repel ticks, mosquitoes, biting flies, gnats, and more. Many websites in the USA won’t ship permethrin products to Canada (REI doesn’t, I checked). But, I was able to find some permethrin treated clothing on Amazon, like this long sleeved top and these tick repelling leggings.
Where to Hike (And Not Hike) to Avoid Ticks
Watch your step when you go hiking. There are areas on the hiking trails that are more tick-infested than others. For instance, the most common places to find ticks are in thick brush and tall grasses, especially on warmer days.
Contrary to popular belief, ticks do not jump or fly. But, if you are walking through tall grass or brush past them, they can attach themselves to you. Ticks are usually waiting on the ends of grass blades or on shrubs. If you’re looking for how to avoid ticks while hiking, stick to the middle of the path as much as possible.
Remember that ticks can also become attached to your backpack if you brush by anything with your bag. It’s always a good idea to check your personal items when you check yourself for ticks. If you sit down on a rock to have a rest, do a quick tick check before you begin hiking again. Also, playing in leaf piles can mean that you’re also playing with creepy crawly insects, too!
When to Hike to Avoid Ticks
Ticks are most active in the spring and summer months, although you can actually find ticks all year long. Ticks can even be active on slightly warmer winter days! You can find ticks any day that the temperature is above the freezing level. The days that can be extra dangerous are the super warm days that immediately follow a cold day. The ticks will be out and extra hungry.
With that said, I wouldn’t avoid hiking between the summer and the fall – those are arguably the best times of the year to get outside. The best time to hike to avoid ticks is on the most freezing winter days. Thankfully, there are ways to protect ourselves so we can enjoy the great outdoors all year long.
How to Check Yourself for Ticks
You can check your skin and clothing at the end of your hike for ticks. Brush off your clothing and your gear before you get in the car and drive home. It’s also best to check yourself from ticks when you come home from a hiking trip.
Remove your clothing and look for ticks. Run your hands over your skin to see if you feel any ticks. Ticks like to crawl up your body to a warm spot where they’ll begin their feast. The most common places for ticks to bite: head and hair, in and around the ears, on your back, under the arms, waist, belly button, around the groin, legs, behind the knees, and between the toes.
How to Remove a Tick
I will now describe the ways to properly remove a tick, followed by the things that you should never do when trying to remove a tick.
- Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as you can
- Pull the tick out slowly so you don’t crush its mouth or body
- Put the tick into a sealed container or bag
- Wash your skin with soap and warm water
- Bring the tick to your local health unit for identification
- If you see any bits of the tick still embedded in your skin, try to remove them (if you can’t, just leave them alone and let your skin heal)
Some things that you shouldn’t do: don’t crush the tick with your fingers, don’t use a match or heat to try to remove it, don’t remove it by painting it with nail polish, don’t put Vaseline on it, don’t wait for the tick to come out or remove itself. Remove it as soon as possible using the method described above.
Visiting the Doctor After a Tick Bite
Have you been bit by a tick? If you think you’ve been bitten by a blacklegged tick, it’s better to be safe than sorry. See your doctor as soon as possible. The earlier a diagnosis is made for Lyme disease, the better chance you will have a successful treatment and quick recovery.
Some important things to tell your doctor when you visit: how long you believe the tick was attached to you, and where you were bitten by the tick. If you can save the tick that bit you, bring it to your doctor’s appointment, too. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated with two to four weeks of antibiotics if it’s caught early enough.
Protecting Your Dogs From Ticks While Hiking
Similar to humans, dogs can easily get bitten by ticks while hiking. Just as you would inspect your own body, it’s important to perform a tick check on your dog before you bring him home. Give your dog a quick brush and run your fingers across your dog’s belly, chest, and legs. If you find a tick, remove it with tweezers or a Tick key (some dog owners keep one on their keychain for this very reason).
You can also take some preventative measures to keep ticks off your dog. First, you can treat your dog with a monthly preventative medication for fleas and ticks. Keep your dog on a leash when you go hiking and don’t let your dog run through tall grass and piles of dead leaves. Sticking to the path is the best way to keep the ticks away.
Looking for More Hiking Tips?
If you’re looking for more valuable hiking tips, please check out these blog posts on Ontario Hiking:
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