Let’s Talk Ticks
Ticks – eurgh! Across the nation, these tiny, spider-like creatures are voraciously feasting on our four-pawed friends. In fact, The Big Tick project at the University of Bristol found 31% of the 15,000 dogs examined carried these oh-so-creepy crawlies. That’s no small number to scoff at. These blood-gorging insects are more than just nuisances – they carry serious health risks and can wreak utter havoc with your pets. Ticks transmit toxic bacteria known to trigger infections like Lyme disease – a tick-borne condition that unleashes a torrent of unpleasantness: heart failure, meningitis, and even death if left untreated. So, how can you protect your beloved companion from these parasitic pests? Well, listen up.
What are ticks?
As arachnids that dine on warm-blooded mammals, ticks attach to hosts and greedily indulge in their blood. Mmm, delicious. When a contaminated tick fastens onto a pet, it can transmit any infectious diseases it may be carrying. The good news – if you can call it that – is it usually takes 24-48 hours for a tick to contaminate your furry friend, so early removal can prevent this. Phew. Ticks are opportunistic creatures; they can’t jump or fly, but if your pet passes through a hotbed, they will latch on and gorge their little hearts out. Understandably, they are rather nasty things.
Fur-tunately, native UK ticks can only transmit a limited number of diseases. However, with doggy and kitty passports now becoming more customary, and the fact pets no longer need to be treated for ticks before entering the UK, it’s likely foreign ticks could invade our shores. Be afraid; be very afraid…
What diseases can ticks transmit?
While a variety of tick-borne diseases exist around the world, you only have to worry about a select few in the UK.
Lyme disease can manifest in countless ugly ways. A contaminated pet may become sluggish, lose his appetite, develop a fever or begin to struggle with painful arthritis. In more serious, chronic cases, Lyme disease can trigger heart, kidney and nerve problems, which can be life threatening. Disclaimer: not all dogs will display these symptoms – some health implications can come and go, so it’s wise to record ticks you find on your pet to shed light on conditions that may arise later. FYI: this is the only disease carried by UK ticks.
Although rare in the UK, your furry friend could still contract this condition if you take him abroad. Rapid heart rate, anaemia, lethargy, and the yellowing of the skin (between 8 and 21 days after the infection) are all symptoms of this unforgiving disease. Worse still, Babesiosis usually strikes unexpectedly and can prove to be fatal.
Like Babesiosis, anaplasmosis/ehrlichiosis is a rare disease that doesn’t naturally occur in the UK. Yet, there have still been cases of infected pets. Contaminated canines or felines may showcase lethargy, depression, loss of appetite, fever, and in more serious cases, seizures or meningitis.
Do regular tick checks
Prevention is better than cure when it comes to tick-borne diseases. Bottom line: check your pet regularly. When you are stroking or grooming your furry friend, keep your eyes peeled for ticks. Be mindful these creepy crawlies like to hangout to in armpits, knees, ears, and under tails. Remember to check those harder-to-reach-areas too: toes, pads and around the groin. If you do find a parasitic pest, you need to safely and carefully remove it yourself (see below), or consult your vet to do it for you.
Check for ticks all year round
Like many of us, ticks love the heat. They thrive in warm, summer months – or 18- 26 C, to be precise. But some ticks still survive in winter, so you need to check your pet all year round. No excuses!
Tick-proof your garden
It can be useful to make the landscape surrounding your home unsuitable for ticks to nest. Prune trees and shrubs, mow the lawn regularly, and remove piles of leaves. Be gone bugs!
Don’t go ‘off trail’
When you walk your pooch, stick to paths and ensure you dog roams in an area free from long grass and tall bushes – a.k.a. tick heaven.
Safe tick removal
Despite your best efforts, ticks can still find their way onto your pet. (We did warn you: they’re nasty critters). If this happens, you must remove the entire creature from your furry friend. Injuring the tick isn’t an option because it can cause toxic fluids to leak into your pet’s bloodstream. The best way to remove these pests is with a tick-removal tool, using the instructions outlined below. If you don’t feel confident about doing this, consult your vet.
Part your pet’s hair near the tick
Place the tick-removal tweezers around the creature – as close as you can
Don’t twist the tick. Instead, gently pull upwards, adding force until the creature pulls away from the skin
Place the tick in some tissue and flush it away
Clean the area with alcohol or soap and water
Wash your hands thoroughly
Keep an eye on the bite site, keeping it clean. If it becomes scabby consult your vet.
Take away message
For something so teeny tiny, ticks evoke a lot of fear, don’t you think? The mere mention of the creatures is enough to sends shivers down your spine! The best way to avoid parasitic-induced problems is by checking your furry friends regularly – it couldn’t be simpler, really. A tick-free pet is a happy, healthy pet. If you have any concerns, talk to your vet.
Pets4Homes. (2018). How to identify and remove ticks from your pets. Available online: https://www.pets4homes.co.uk/pet-advice/how-to-identify-and-remove-ticks-from-your-pet.html
The University of Bristol. (2016). Results of the Big Tick Project. Available online: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2016/september/big-tick-project.html
Wright, I., Cull, B., Gillingham, E.L, Hansford, K.M., Medlock, J. (2018). Be tick aware: when and where to check cats and dogs for ticks. Veterinary Record.