Ticks – the tiny terror
Where do the ticks live?
Wherever you live, your cats and dogs could get ticks. It could be from rural areas, public parks or even your garden. Tick infestation is highest in woodland, heath and moorland areas populated by deer or other livestock. Locally, the most likely area your pet will pick up ticks is the Quantock Hills.
Are ticks seasonal?
Although ticks can be found throughout the year, they are particularly active during spring and early summer, and again from late summer into autumn.
A tick’s lifecycle.
Ticks are blood sucking parasites that pierce your pet’s skin with their mouths and cement themselves into position to prevent easy removal. Most ticks in the UK are “hard ticks” which means they have a hard outer shell protecting their body. Ticks don’t just target cats and dogs, but can infest other animals, most commonly deer and sheep or even humans.
Ticks vary but here they usually small (up to 1cm long), brown or greyish, bean shaped objects attached to the skin. A close inspection at the skin’s surface will usually reveal tell-tale legs. These help you distinguish a tick from a wart.
Ticks are parasites that spend 3-10 days feeding on your pet’s blood before falling off into the environment to wait for its next host.
Is it serious?
Yes it can be. At the very least, the physical presence of the tick is uncomfortable for your pet, possibly leading to skin reactions or an abscess where the tick was attached – particularly if the mouthparts are accidentally left behind during removal. But the problem doesn’t end there, as ticks may carry diseases that can be transmitted to your pet.
In the UK:
- Lyme’s disease – Can affect humans as well as dogs and on occasion cats. In dogs, it may cause fever, lethargy, arthritis and occasionally skin disease.
- Anaplasmosis –Although rarely in the UK, symptoms include depression, fever, reluctance to move and general malaise.
With more pets travelling with their owners abroad they are at risk from certain tick borne diseases not generally seen in the UK, principally:
- Ehrlichiosis –Mostly seen in the Mediterranean, particularly the south of France, Corsica, Greece and central and southern Italy. Signs range from mild fever with loss of appetite to severe illness with anaemia and blood clotting.
- Babesiosis – It is seen throughout Europe, but dogs travelling from the UK are more susceptible to severe illness. Babesiosis is an infection of red blood cells that causes severe anaemia. Affected dogs are pale and weak, have a high temperature and pass red urine.
Possible signs of tick borne fever
- Loss of Appetite
- Sudden onset of pain
- Arthritis and swelling of joints
- Lethargy or depression
If your pet has recently travelled abroad or you have recently found a tick on your pet and they start showing any of the signs listed above, it is important to contact your vet immediately, have your pet examined and remember to tell your vet which countries you have visited. Remember, many of these signs can be associated with other diseases and illnesses, not just tick borne disease.
How to prevent tick-borne diseases in pets?
Prevention is always better than cure; it is better for your pet’s health and better for your wallet. Preventing tick borne disease in dogs and cats means killing ticks before disease is transmitted. Whether at home or abroad it is important you treat your pet regularly to kill ticks. There are several products available for tick control and make sure you follow the guidelines below:
- Use a product that kills ticks within 24-48 hours
- Use a product to kill the main UK and European tick species
- If your dog swims or is regularly shampooed ensure you have waterproof tick control.
- Apply regular preventative treatment to maintain control.
Remember certain products used in tick control on dogs are NOT suitable for use on cats. Always check with your vet first which is the best product available.
Other preventative measures
After taking your dog for a walk in a high risk area, inspect carefully for ticks and remove any that you find straight away.
Correct removal of a tick requires care and dexterity, and special tick hooks or tweezers are available from the Blake Vets surgery. Used according to the instructions, these really help remove ticks. On no account should ticks simply be pulled off or burnt, as this usually results in the tick’s mouth parts being left embedded in the skin.
Remember prevention is better than cure, so take control and get Blake Vets advice on the most suitable tick control product.