Tick awareness for Spring
Ticks are parasites, found throughout the UK. Members of the arachnid group (like spiders), the adult form has 8 legs, a small head and a rounded body which swells with each feed. They feed by attaching themselves to humans, dogs, cats, rabbits or wildlife and sucking blood from their host.
Although they are active all year round, they are most commonly seen in the Spring or Autumn. High numbers are found in woodland and long grass, where they wait on the top of the vegetation and attach themselves to any host which brushes past. Their mouthparts contain local anaesthetic to make their bite less painful, and have backward facing spikes so the tick does not fall off until it has fed.
Tick bites can cause irritation and swelling, and multiple ticks can result in significant blood loss in a small animal. Unfortunately, ticks can also be infected with organisms which cause serious infectious disease in humans and animals. These organisms are carried in the saliva of the tick and are injected when the tick first bites, or after a period of adherence, or when the tick is stressed by inappropriate removal. As we will see later, it is important to remove a tick in a way that reduces the risk of infection.
There are 20 species of tick in the UK. For a number of reasons, including deforestation, climate change and biodiversity policies, tick numbers and the incidence of tick-borne infections are rising. Thus they present a growing threat to pet and human health. The most common disease carried by a tick in the UK is Lyme disease. Not all ticks are infected, but if a human is bitten by an infected tick they will often develop a rash and a high temperature, lethargy and joint pain. It is important that this infection is treated as soon as possible as the symptoms respond very quickly to antibiotics.
Infection in cats and rabbits is uncommon, but Lyme disease is increasing in prevalence in dogs. Dogs usually become quiet, lethargic, eat less and they and often appear lame on one or more legs. They have a high temperature, painful swollen joints and, if untreated, will go on to develop kidney disease. A rash around the bite is a warning sign in people, but is rarely seen in dogs because of hair cover.
Around the world, many other diseases are carried by ticks and some of these have now been seen in the UK, in both travelled and un-travelled dogs.
Both Ehrlichia and Babesia cause bleeding and blood loss, while Bartonella presents more like Lyme disease. Unfortunately, these organisms cause severe disease, and even death, in our pets.
Prevention of tick borne disease is increasingly important in the UK because of these emerging diseases. Therefore, our pets should be checked daily for ticks. This can be difficult as an unfed tick is only 3mm long. As they feed, they increase in size, so they can be 3-10mm long. They are often mistaken for lumps, skin tags or nipples. Regular checks of the skin of your pet means that you become familiar with any existing lumps or bumps, increasing the chance that you will notice a tick readily.
If a tick is found or if you have any concerns, our team are always available to give thorough advice and assist with tick prevention and treatment. Fortunately, it is possible to prevent all tick infestations and the transmission of tick-borne infections by using regular tick control; our team can advise you on the best product to suit you and your pet.