It’s that time of year again, where the weather is milder, and more time is being spent outdoors with our pets. Unfortunately, we aren’t the only ones who are enjoying the milder weather, and that means bad news for us and our furry friends…
What are ticks?
A tick is an arachnid – a spider like creature that lives in the outdoors. Small and quick, they often go unnoticed and this makes them even more successful at carrying out their mission - to drink blood. Ticks aren’t fussy with the blood they drink; humans, other mammals, birds and reptiles are all on the menu.
It isn’t just the nasty bite that makes them a risk, it is the various diseases they can spread.
In the UK, there are certain ticks in particular we need be aware of:
This is also known as the sheep tick and is the most prevalent tick in the UK. It tends to reside in wooded and upland areas but can actually be found lurking anywhere. It can carry a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi; this bacterium is the cause of Lyme disease.
Also known as the hedgehog tick. It tends to be found in parks and urban areas.
These ticks can carry amoeba like creatures, called protozoa. There is a certain species of protozoa called Babesia canis which can cause disease in our dogs. Until recently, this disease wasn’t thought to be in the UK, but we now know it is well established in the east of the country and will probably spread from there.
What is the likelihood of getting bitten?
Each year, thousands of people and animals get bitten by ticks.
There are certain times of the year where the risk of a bite increases. Ticks don’t like cold weather, so they tend to be most active from spring through to late autumn. They also aren’t fussy where they live; gardens, woodland and coastal areas are all acceptable to them.
Unfortunately, this means the more time you spend outdoors in the milder weather, the more likely you are to get bitten.
What diseases can ticks spread?
Lyme disease is a disease caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacterium essentially uses the tick as a taxi; it hitches a ride and when the tick is enjoying a blood meal, they enter the bloodstream of the victim.
Thousands of people a year are bitten by ticks carrying this bacterium and contract the debilitating disease. Lyme disease can affect multiple organs within our body and is something we need to be vigilant at spotting.
The disease occurs in multiple stages. Within the first few weeks of being bitten, a red, circular skin rash can occur around the tick bite. Not every person affected may develop a rash however; other symptoms include headaches, a high temperature, tiredness, lethargy and pain in the muscles or joints. Medical advice should always be sought in these circumstances.
This disease doesn’t just affect us, it can also affect our pets and cause similar clinical signs in them to people – often starting with a skin rash (sometimes in the shape of a bullseye). This is followed by lethargy and weakness for several weeks. As the disease progresses, the bacteria can affect the heart, bones and nerves and lead to more long-term problems.
Babesiosis is the disease caused by a group of protozoa called Babesia. The species which can infect our dogs is called Babesia canis, and they live in the red blood cells of our pets.
Up until 2016, it was believed that these protozoa weren’t residents of the UK, as the disease was only seen in dogs which had travelled abroad. We now know this isn’t the case, and it can affect dogs which have never left the UK, especially here in the East of England.
The consequences of Babesiosis vary greatly; some dogs will show no signs of the disease, whereas in others it can be very serious, causing anaemia, difficulty breathing and ultimately collapse and death.
How can I protect my pets from ticks?
When protecting your pet from ticks, we believe offence is the best defence!
There are certain actions you can take against ticks in order to protect your pet:
One of the best ways of preventing your pet from getting bitten is to make them seem as unsavoury to the ticks as possible! Certain medications (such as permethrin-based spot-ons for dogs, not for cats) are off-putting to ticks, and it means they are less likely to use your pet for their next meal.
If your pet is unfortunate enough to get bitten by a tick, with the right medication on board, the damage they cause can be minimised. There are various types of medication which can be used to kill ticks once they start to feed; the quicker this medication kills the tick, the less likely they are to spread disease.
We can help you to choose a medication which is best suited to you and your pet, so feel free to get in touch or visit us for any help with this.
In order to remove a tick, you need to be able to spot it. The only way to guarantee this is by spending time grooming your pet (as if we needed an excuse!) This offers two key benefits; your pet will love you for it and whilst pleasing them, you are also helping them.
Be careful when removing ticks though; be sure to use a proper tick hook and twist them around as you are taking them out. Pulling at them can result in the mouthpiece of the tick being left behind in your pet, and this can set up an infection.
If you do spot a tick and are unsure how to deal with it, don’t try to kill the tick yourself. Certain topical treatments you may use can be damaging to your pet, so are best left alone. Instead, pop down to us with your pet and we will deal with the tick for you.
Many of the options available require a prescription from one of the vets. These options include topicals (typically applied every 4 weeks), sprays, collars and oral chewable formulations, some of which can give up to 12 weeks of protection.
Speak to one of our vets for a recommendation about which product is most appropriate for your pet and how to best ensure that you never miss a treatment.