National Tick Awareness and Behaviour Study: A Summary
Original study prepared by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) in March 2022. Summarized with permission.
The CVMA in collaboration with a team of subject matter experts conducted a set of surveys designed to assess and characterize baseline awareness and preventive behaviours of veterinarians, pet owners, and hunters, anglers and trappers (HATs) towards ticks and tick-borne diseases (TBDs) in Canada.
The study, funded by Public Health Canada, reinforced the fact that there is a lack of public awareness regarding ticks and TBDs which leads to a lack of passive surveillance, underreporting of TBDs, and less employment/success of preventive behaviours.
The survey findings report an insufficient amount of accessible information for learning about tick risk and preventive behaviours, and low consistent adoption of these preventive behaviours.
Veterinarians reported significantly increased concern regarding tick risk for dogs and human health, particularly across Ontario and Eastern Canada.
Pet owner responses (regarding risk) had little regional variance except for lower risk perception in the Prairies and Eastern Canada.
Veterinarian respondents reported lower incidence of pet owners in Eastern Canada following through with consistent testing behaviours for their dogs following a tick bite, per their veterinarians’ recommendations. Less than half of this group reported bringing ticks into their veterinarians’ offices for identification, and just over half reported that they preventatively test for tick-borne pathogens despite living in a region identified as having elevated tick risk.
Veterinarians in Ontario and Eastern Canada reported having higher confidence in their clients’ recently improved knowledge about protecting themselves and their pets against ticks, with veterinarians from Western Canada and the Prairies indicating a significantly higher proportion of respondents indicating no improvement in client understanding or awareness.
It was reported that the duration of tick control application administered by HATs on their companion dogs appeared to be similar to that of pet owners, who on average reported administering tick control for six months out of the year. This contrasts with veterinarian survey responses recommending at least 7 to 10 months of administered tick control out of the year (West = 9 months, Prairies = 7 months, Ontario = 10 months, East = 9 months).
Most veterinarians indicated that education surrounding tick risk, prevention, and control is a year-round responsibility.
Veterinarian respondents reported the most common questions surrounding ticks, prevention, and control including those about Lyme disease transmission and prevention of TBDs, and few questions regarding tick characteristics. Where awareness of tick characteristics is instrumental to properly implementing preventive behaviours, this may pose as an area of improvement for future awareness campaigns about ticks and TBDs.
Veterinarians may also further explain the efficacy and safety of tick control products that are available, preventing pet owners from using ineffective measures to control ticks or unsafe use of available products. This advice may carry over into directly mitigating human tick risk.
Pet owners receive the most support from their veterinarians, followed by displays and posters where they buy pet care products, as well as information made available by human health clinicians.
There is significant opportunity to increase the pet owner group’s exposure to mixed media awareness campaigns for tick risk and TBD risk, as well as communications from public health authorities. Suggested desired materials by veterinarians which may help this group include prevalence maps, social media posts, more in-clinic posters, as well as in person conversations. Other interventions to increase general awareness include educational videos, and webinars or seminars with key opinion leaders.
Veterinarians remain a central source of information about ticks and TBDs for pet owners and HATs with companion dogs. Veterinarian clients are trusting of advice specific to tick risk and prevention.