University of Saskatchewan

Western College of Veterinary Medicine

Equine tick surveillance

A research project conducted by the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan

A WCVM research team is investigating the prevalence and risk of exposure to the tick-borne diseases, equine granulocytic anaplasmosis (A. phagocytophilum infection) and Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi infection), in horses.

As part of their studies, the WCVM researchers are aiming to better understand tick populations relevant to horses in Saskatchewan and are asking veterinarians and horse owners to submit any ticks found on horses within the province. Researchers are accepting ticks of any life stage (including larval, nymph and adult stages) and are actively seeking tick submissions throughout 2013. 

Tick submissions: collection containers

You can submit ticks — alive or dead — in a sealed container. To ensure that ticks are not damaged during shipment, please place specimens in a suitable collection container made out of rigid plastic such as a pill bottle or a film canister. To avoid accidents, please do not use glass containers to submit ticks. 

Please place moistened tissue paper, paper towels, gauze or cotton in the collection container to protect the specimen during shipment and to maintain any ticks that are alive during transport. The moistened material also ensures that the ticks (dead or alive) do not dry out and break during shipping. 

Tick submissions: collection details

When submitting ticks, please include as much of the following information as possible:

Please use one container per horse and one submission form per horse. For example, if you submit ticks collected from three of your horses, please submit three containers and three submission forms. Please include the name of the horse (or other ID matching that on the submission form) on each container.

Tick submissions: contact information

Please send your tick submission by standard post to:

Attention: Dr. Katharina Lohmann
WCVM Veterinary Medical Centre
Room 1401, Large Animal Clinic
University of Saskatchewan
52 Campus Drive
Saskatoon, SK   S7N 5B4

Q. Why is the WCVM research project targeting these specific tick-borne diseases?

Equine granulocytic anaplasmosis and Lyme disease are tick-borne diseases that have historically been considered exotic to Canada. However, in recent years, several dogs and a single horse have been diagnosed with the disease in Saskatchewan.

Both organisms are carried by the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis). Although there is no known endemic population of black-legged ticks in Saskatchewan, these ticks have been transported into the province by migratory birds. In addition, evidence for local and distant migration of the tick and simulation models of climate changes are suggesting that the geographic range for established tick populations is expanding towards the North and West.

Q. What's the goal of the WCVM research study?

The goal is to answer some fundamental questions relating to tick ecology and their relative importance in disease transmission. We are looking for ticks collected from horses in all parts of the province and at all times of the year. We expect that most ticks will be found in the spring and early summer. However, as Ixodes scapularis is mostly active in the fall, we also hope to obtain specimens later this year.

Since February 2012, more than 550 ticks have been submitted for the study; most of the submissions have been from the Saskatoon area with others coming from the southeastern and southwestern parts of the province.

The ticks comprised a variety of species which included: 

As these ticks do not transmit the diseases we are interested in studying, the ticks were identified but not tested for presence of infectious organisms.

Identification of ticks (and testing of relevant ticks for their disease carrier status) is done in collaboration with Dr. Neil Chilton of the University of Saskatchewan's Department of Biology. Please note that veterinarians and horse owners who submit ticks will be informed of their identification results.

We wish to thank all veterinarians and horse owners who have been and are still submitting ticks for the study! 

Q. What other research results have you obtained to date?

We have tested more than 400 blood samples from horses in Saskatchewan and other provinces for antibodies against Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Borrelia burgdorferi.

Interestingly, although few horses overall had measurable antibody titres, we found horses that tested positive in provinces with as well as those without known established Ixodes populations. We cannot be sure whether these horses encountered the organisms in Canada, and we are doing a follow-up survey to compare travel history and management factors between horses that did or did not have measurable antibody titres.

For more information, please visit WCVM Today (the WCVM's news blog) to read an article about the tick research study and a sidebar on tick facts.

Additional resources:

If you have any questions relating to this tick surveillance survey, or if you have a case in which you suspect one of these tick-borne diseases, please contact Dr. Gili Schvartz (306-966-7095) or Dr. Katharina Lohmann (306-966-7157).