The Tick App: Information at Your Fingertips

The Tick App: Information at Your Fingertips

By Dr. Bieneke Bron and Dr. Lyric Bartholomay

As a veterinarian, you have seen and shown pet owners plenty of fleas, and possibly even ticks. You may have removed ticks and feel comfortable distinguishing a deer tick from a wood tick. The deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), also known as the blacklegged tick or bear tick, transmits several tick-borne pathogens, including those that cause Lyme disease and anaplasmosis. Most often, it is the nymphal stage of the tick that transmits the pathogens, because they are small and difficult to detect. These ticks are in the woods and our backyards; the latter is a location we often overlook.

Lyme disease is a persistent and increasing problem in Wisconsin, but we have little understanding of how human behavior relates to risk of exposure to deer ticks. We can all imagine that rolling in the leaf litter in June is a bad idea, but after gardening or picnicking we may forget to check for ticks. WVMA’s One Health Committee aims to promote knowledge regarding how humans, animals and the environment interplay in health and the spread of disease. With this mission in mind, researchers in the Midwest Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Diseases at UW-Madison seek to find out what the risk factors for deer tick encounters are and would like to know the following from pet owners:
• What outdoor activities do you do?
• Do you or your dog pick up ticks? If so, what kind of tick do you think they are?
• Where do you think you and your dog might pick up deer ticks?
• Do you take measures to protect yourself and your animals from ticks?

To answer these questions, we designed the Tick App with colleagues in the Center for Health Enhancement System Studies (CHESS) at UW-Madison and the Northeast Center of
Excellence for Vector-Borne Disease in 2018. The Tick App provides information about tick biology and deer tick activity levels and offers users a daily diary to record their activities. This year, users have the opportunity to submit a photo and select characteristics of ticks they see so we can tell them which tick species they encountered. We hope to learn when and where risky tick encounters occur, when people are and are not bitten by deer tick nymphs, and how well people recognize deer ticks as compared to other types of ticks. The newly updated Tick App is available in iTunes and Google Play.

In 2018, there were 692 Tick App users in Wisconsin. Of those, 386 (55.8 percent) were dog owners. A total of 92 percent of the dog owners treated their dog(s) for ectoparasites
at least once. Frontline Spot On was the most commonly used product (40.7 percent). Unfortunately, a third of the Frontline users reported treating their pet for ticks less
frequently than the recommended treatment frequency of every four weeks.

Enjoy the Tick App! We hope the Tick App will not only educate pet owners about ticks and ways to prevent tick bites, but also inspire people to join the study to share their
outdoor activities and tick encounters. For more information, go to and

Bieneke Bron, DVM, PhD, is a postdoctoral researcher at the Midwest Center of Excellence for Vector-borne Diseases at UW-Madison. Lyric Bartholomay, PhD, is an associate professor in the department of pathobiology and co-director of the Midwest Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Diseases at UW-Madison.