What are ticks?
Ticks are ectoparasites, which means they live on the outside of a host animal. They are ‘haematophages’; they like to eat blood. When it comes to finding a meal ticks aren’t particularily choosy, and will feed off dogs, cats, humans,livestock and wild animals.
Once they have attached themselves to their host they feed until they are engorged and then drop off.
The Big Tick Awareness project was launched last year. Run by the University of Bristol this study enlisted the help of veterinary clinics, owners and pets to shed light on the spread of ticks and tick borne disease in the UK. Of the thousands of dogs that participated, 1 in 3 dogs were found to be carrying a tick. They also produced a map showing the risk of ticks across the UK. The results are astounding -Ticks really are everywhere!
Traditionally ticks like to lurk in areas with bracken, long grass and woody areas. Urban dogs with little access to these areas were considered less likely to be at risk. The big tick project has shown this is no longer the case. Ticks are now widespread across the UK, with the study showing little difference between infestation risk in Urban or Rural pets. City parks
Why worry about ticks?
If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be bitten by a tick, you’ll know it isn’t a pleasant experience. Apart from the irritation factor and swelling around the bite site, ticks can also carry diseases which pose a risk to both human and animal health.
Tick borne diseases:
Lymes disease (also known as Boreliosis): This is a bacterial infection that can affect people and their dogs. In dogs signs of this illness include lameness, stiffness and swollen joints, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy. Sometimes it can even result in kidney failure.
The symptoms in humans include a fever and flu like aches and pains. It can also cause joint, heart and nerve damage.
Babesiosis is an emerging problem in the UK, with an outbreak occurring earlier this year in Harlow, Essex. It is caused by a protozoal parasite, Babesia canis. Signs of infection include red urine, pale gums, jaundice (yellowing of the whites of the eye), fever. It can be life threatening.
There are treatments available for these diseases, but recovery may be a long, slow process. As such, it is much better to try and avoid getting bitten by a tick in the first place.
How do I know if my dog has a tick?
Examine your pet regularly. Start by checking around your pet’s face, ears and legs for any lumps, before moving on to the rest of their body. This can take a while, especially if your dog is large or very hairy!
If you find a lump, have a closer inspection. It is important to distinguish between ticks and other lumps such as skin tags or warts. If you look really closely you will be able to see the ticks legs close to the skin.
Ticks are easier to spot when they are swollen after having a meal, and in the early stages may be as small as a poppy seed! Hopefully you won’t find any, other times there may be a single tick, or several. One dog in the 2015 Big Tick Project had 200 individuals removed!
What do I do if I find a tick?
You need to remove the tick ASAP, as transmission of disease from an infected tick may take place within the first 24-48 hours. If you feel confident in doing this, great! But don’t worry if you don’t, ask your vet or vet nurse for help. They will be happy to assist.
The easiest, safest way to take a tick off is by using a tool specially made for the job. These can be found online, at your vets or pet shops. They are relatively cheap and designed to hook around the tick’s body and then detach the tick by twisting. This technique avoids leaving bits of the tick attached to your pet. Leaving mouthparts can result in painful swellings or infection.
Avoid using tweezers to grasp or squeeze the tick. This can cause it to release saliva and potentially pass on any disease it is carrying to your pet. Likewise, don’t try to burn a tick or pull it off.
How do I prevent ticks from biting my dog?
As the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’! Talk to your vet and get advice on which product will suit you and your dog. Thanks to the wonders of science there are many different tick prevention methods available, including spot on solutions, collars and chewable tablets. More information can also be found here and here.