An analysis of companion animal tick encounters as revealed by photograph-based crowdsourced data

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Background: Community science is increasingly utilized to track important vectors of companion animal disease, providing a scalable, cost-effective strategy for identifying new foci, changing phenology, and disease prevalence across wide geographies. Objectives: We examined photographs of ticks found attached to predominately dogs and cats reported to a photograph-based tick surveillance program to identify potential areas for improvements in tick prevention education and risk intervention. Methods: We compared estimated days of tick attachment using a Kruskal–Wallis one-way analysis of variance, and a Pearson's chi-square analysis of variance on the number of submissions by host type submitted for each season. Results: The blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) was the most common species reported (39.8%). Tick photographs submitted were almost entirely adults (89.5%), and ticks found on companion animals exhibited an estimated median engorgement time of 2.5 days. Ixodes scapularis displayed the highest median engorgement of the top tick species found feeding on companion animals (χ2 = 98.96, p < 0.001). Ticks were spotted year-round; during spring and summer, ticks collected from pets represented 15.4 and 12.8% of all submissions, but increased to 28.5 and 35.2% during autumn and winter, respectively. Conclusions: Crowdsourced data reveal that mostly adult ticks are detected on pets, and they are found at a point in the blood-feeding process that puts pets at heightened risk for disease transmission. The increase in proportion of ticks found on pets during colder months may reveal a critical knowledge gap amongst pet owners regarding seasonal activity of I. scapularis, a vector of Lyme disease, providing an opportunity for prevention-education.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Veterinary Medicine and Science