Bug Bites and Kids: Ticks and Tick Bites

We all get excited when the warmer weather comes around because we can get outside with our little ones.. but with warmer weather comes more creepy crawlers. And options can be somewhat limited for little ones when it comes to safety and effectiveness.

Lets take a look at how you can deal with bugs safely and hopefully, effectively, this spring/summer season! I intended this to be a single post, but it ends up there is a lot of common bugs here and lots of information that is important to share.

As a result, this post is focused on ticks.

Disclaimer: this is not medical advice. This blog is for information only. Please seek medical advice from your trusted healthcare professional.

Now I want to preface this post with the warning that I am a nurse and not an entomologist (who studies insects). I remember working in clinic and often getting questions about identifying bug bites or bugs (yes, bugs… brought inside a container to a clinic).

What your healthcare professional may be able to do with a visual of the actual bite is maybe tell you what it is (like a spider vs. a tick vs. another type of bite), and definitely help you to differentiate whatever it is from other skin problems. So I’m not saying don’t go in with a bug bite – if it looks like it’s red, swelling or feels hot or pussy, you should get it assessed.

But most of the time the bug is not necessary – the only case where you can keep it is with ticks. A tick can be sent in when safely removed (I’ll talk about that below), in some type of sealed container or bag. However, this is not always necessary – you can simply take a photo of it and then bring the photo with you or use eTick, where you can submit your photo for identification. To know if you have an identification program that actually accepts specimen submissions, contact your local public health unit. I can tell you that Peel region does not accept them currently and you can just submit a photo on eTick instead – the identification program does not tell you if you have Lyme disease or not, that is something that is done with your healthcare provider.

A similar service exists in Manitoba for all bugs.. I want to take a moment to shout out to the Bugline. What a genius idea. This is a service through the Department of Entomology at U of Manitoba that will help to identify bugs for you – via e-mail or phone call. I mean, this is not something I’d wait for before going to the doctor’s if you have some type of potentially infected bite – but it’s good if you’re just curious or want to know what something is. You can even submit photos! Their website provides a couple other resources you can use to identify the bug yourself too since they can get quite busy. Anyways – truly a genius idea.

Ticks & Tick Bites

Resource for identification: eTick
Resource for surveillance and risk areas: PHAC

What is a tick and what do they look like?

Ticks look like tiny, weird spiders – some can be as small as a sesame seed. They bite – and instead of just waltzing away like many bugs do, they actually latch on to suck your blood.

Where and when do you find ticks?

They are commonly seen from early spring to end of summer – often in areas where there are wild animals or on grass.

Why do we care about ticks and tick bites?

I think a lot of “tick anxiety” stems from a fear of Lyme disease, which there is frankly a lot of misinformation about (that’s a topic for another day). Most tick bites are actually free of disease or complications – there are over 40 types of ticks in Canada for example, but only two of the 40 are ones that carry Lyme that spreads to people.

You can check current surveillance data for Canada here, including areas where there is significant risk.

Ticks can carry other diseases or infections too. Many have a flu-like presentation and some may have a rash.

How do we deal with tick bites and possible concerns?

If a tick bites your child (or you), you should remove the tick as soon as possible as this decreases the chance of any infection spreading.

Blacklegged ticks are one of the types we see in Canada that can carry Lyme. They should be removed ASAP – the data shows they need 24+ hours to transmit the bacteria causing Lyme disease, to put it in perspective the importance of removing them as soon as they are discovered (and actively checking for them – see below).

To remove a tick safely you can follow the instructions given on the Public Health Agency of Canada website. Ticks should only be removed with tweezers – other ways can increase the risk of infection or may just be ineffective. If you don’t feel you can remove the tick yourself or it is deeply buried, you can take your child to see your healthcare provider (again – this should be done quickly, which can be challenging with the state of primary care wait times in some areas). You should also be following up for any signs of illness after a tick bite, or even if you have concerns.

If your area doesn’t have an identification program and you don’t need the tick for any reason (I assume that this would be the only reason you would need a tick…), kill it by drowning (with rubbing alcohol) or through freezing it for a few days. You can then safely throw it away – I don’t think zombie ticks are a thing yet!

Some people may be allergic to tick bites – usually it is just mild (swelling and itching, like other allergies). Rarely, it can be an anaphylactic reaction. Management for anaphylaxis is always emergency care (Epipen if you have first!).

After-tick bite care:

After you have removed the tick, the area may hurt. You can put an ice pack on the bite to relieve swelling or discomfort. As always, when using an ice pack you should either put a cloth around it or put it in a ziploc bag.

Calamine lotion can be safely used on the skin to relieve itching too (but not in open areas of skin, if there are any).

For over the counter medications, a provider or pharmacist should be consulted.

Consult your provider for specific guidance, or try calling Telehealth or a similar service (your primary care clinic or network may also have their own nurse line).

You should monitor for symptoms of illness such as:

  • Rash (sometimes a Bull’s eye shape presents)
  • Flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, body aches)
  • Severe symptoms such as severe headaches, Bell’s palsy, or confusion

Follow up with a healthcare provider if these are signs of illness associated with a recent (within the past 30 days) tick bite. You should seek emergency care if you present with any of the symptoms mentioned on the American Academy of Dermatology page too.

Tick Bite Prevention

We want to avoid ticks biting our kids as much as we can because that’s just preferable. Ticks are weird and creepy, and removing them is not fun; neither is the anxiety that may follow even if you are reassured.

To avoid tick bites…



  • Walking through grass when possible, or areas of thick bush, leaves, woodpiles or places with stone fencing (use trails while walking!)
  • Areas where others have reported ticks are

Check your kids and yourself (and your dog!) after being outside. Check your clothes and any equipment you have with you. Give your kids a bath after long days outside. And put your clothes in the dryer for 4-10 minutes.

Tick Repellents for Kids

Resource: Pesticide Product Label Database

Children under 12 years cannot use permethrin-treated clothing, however permethrin is the most effective option against ticks so that is unfortunate.

An alternative is DEET. As mentioned above, DEET should only be used once per day at a maximum of 10% DEET for children between age 6 months and 2 years old.

From ages 2 to 12, the max remains 10% but the repellent can be applied up to 3 times per day. The product should also not be used daily for over a month for any child under 12 years.

Babies under 6 months should not use products with DEET or Icaridin. Icaridin can be used after 6 months safely up to 20%.

These are the only known effective methods of repelling ticks!

Avoidance is therefore the best option for babies under 6 months (see the prevention section above).

Health Canada says that wrist or ankle bands with repellent do not work in general; neither do ultrasonic or electronic devices that claim to repel bugs. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding any repellent candles too (likely they wouldn’t apply to ticks, but they also just pose risks for inhalation of fumes).

To safely apply bug repellents to children:

  1. Follow the guidance regarding age minimums for different repellents or sprays.
  2. Read the label before you use, or use the pesticide product label database above to determine suitability. Some repellents are available in stick or lotion form; this may work better for your child.
  3. Do not allow young children to apply their own repellent or put it on their hands – help them or supervise.
  4. Spray outdoors or in a well ventilated area.
  5. Do not apply to open areas of skin or sunburn.
  6. Do not apply under clothes.
  7. Do not spray repellent directly on face – apply to your hands and then apply directly to face.
  8. Reapply after swimming (like sunscreen – and yes, they can be applied together but both the Canadian Paediatric Society and Health Canada recommend not using “combination” products with the two as they create a risk for overexposure to DEET; apply sunscreen product first and repellent about 20 minutes later)
  9. Have your child wash or take a bath after wearing repellent. Also wash any clothing that was sprayed.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more BUGS!

Additional Resources

Health Canada – Personal Insect Repellents

Canadian Paediatric Society – Insect Repellents

AAP Choosing an Insect Repellent

American Academy of Dermatology – Bug Bites and Stings


One response to “Bug Bites and Kids: Ticks and Tick Bites”

  1. […] This is the second post in my series on bug bites & your little ones. You can find the first post, on ticks and tick bites, here. […]


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