Ticks are a type of parasite which feed on blood from mammals. They can spread diseases and are, therefore, best avoided or removed quickly to reduce disease transfer risk.
The UK has three main species of tick, and the most common is known as the sheep or deer tick, but they can feed on any mammal, including humans. The tick itself rarely causes problems. They do not normally cause irritation to the animal they attach to, although, if present for a while, they may cause a red bump at the site of attachment leaving a small lump of scar tissue or local infection.
Ticks are most active during warm, damp weather so can be found at any time during the year when these conditions are present. They are typically found in long grass areas where they climb to the top of grass stalks and climb on to animals as they brush through the undergrowth.
Ticks typically have a three-year lifecycle and the first year is very small and difficult to see on haired animals. They get progressively bigger each year they live and, once they have fed and are bloated with blood, they can get as big as a small blueberry.
They can start feeding within as little as ten minutes after attachment but infection transfer does not normally occur until after 36 hours of ongoing feeding. Bacteria including Borrelia spp. (Lyme Disease) and ehrlichia (causes fever and anaemia) can be transferred. The tick must be carrying the infection to transfer it. Lyme Disease is present in ticks in the
South-West and is spreading north through the UK.
British animals are at risk of European diseases being introduced and ticks capable of carrying infections such as Babesia – which causes red blood cell destruction and anaemia – are already present in the UK. Animals travelling in from infected countries are at risk of bringing this infection in with them and should be treated for ticks before entering Britain.
Products which kill the tick cause tick death after 24 hours attachment which should prevent disease transfer. Most dead ticks will then fall off safely sometimes leaving a small lump. Removing ticks using a tick remover is effective for visible ticks. Squeezing or ‘stressing’ the tick by burning it or suffocating it may cause it to discharge its fluids into the animal thereby increasing the risk of transferring infections and should be avoided.
Products are available as a spot-on often combined with a flea treatment, a chewable tablet or a collar. Until dry spot-ons may contaminate water if your dogs swim and collars can be toxic if handled by young children and will harm fish. Please be aware that many flea treatments do not kill ticks and care should be taken to choose an effective product.
Ticks need to be taken seriously but commonly available controls are available to minimise any significant effect on your pet’s health.
by Lynn Broom,
Longmead Veterinary Practice