What you need to know about ticks on dogs and cats

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Ticks are nasty parasites which can bite you and your pets. Ticks on dogs are the most common, however they can also bite you or your cat. Learn all about them in this article so you can be prepared and know how to take action. Ticks pose a health risk to your dog and part of The Kennel Club’s obedience training is to understand health risks to your dog and so this information is necessary to pass your Level 1 Training Award.

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What are ticks?

Ticks are small parasites which look a bit like spiders. They have 8 legs and a flat, oval body. You are more likely to find ticks on dogs than cats but it does happen so you need to regularly check your pets. As ticks are parasites, they need a host (you or your pet) to survive. They will bite and drink blood until they’re full.

example of ticks on dogs

Ticks are most often found in woodlands or grassy areas such as fields and meadows. They don’t jump like fleas. The tick simply waits on a strand of grass or a tree or a bush until you or your dog brush past it and then it clings on to you instead.

They are active all year round although they will be more prevalent between spring and autumn when it’s warmer. In the spring, females lay around 2000 eggs each. These hatch the same summer.

Ticks can range in size from 1 mm to 1 cm. Before feeding, they are approximately the size of a sesame seed but can grow to the size of a pea.

size of a tick relative to a match

The Big Tick Project

The Big Tick Project was originally started due to an increase in the number of ticks in the UK. This is thought to be due to climate change as ticks can survive better in warmer conditions.

The prevalence of ticks on dogs in the UK is around 30%. The Big Tick Project has created a risk map for England, Scotland, and Wales. Check your risk level here.

The project has identified three main tick species in the UK.

  1. Sheep/Deer ticks (ixodes ricnus) – main carrier of Lyme disease
  2. Hedgehog ticks (ixodes hexagonus)
  3. Dog ticks (ixodes canisuga)

They looked at dogs who had been bitten by ticks and identified which tick had bitten them. 89% of dogs had been bitten by tick type 1, 10% had been bitten by tick type 2 with only 1% being bitten by tick type 3.

An interesting point to consider from the project is that dogs who are kept in urban areas were no less likely to be bitten by a tick than dogs who walk or live in rural areas.

Tick diseases

Not all ticks carry disease. However, some can spread very nasty diseases when they bite. The main disease in the UK that ticks can carry is Lyme disease which is a serious bacterial infection. Official estimates state that around 3000 people per year in Britain are infected with Lyme disease. The figure for dogs is less clear. However, PDSA state they treated 99 dogs for suspected or confirmed Lyme disease in 2015 and numbers of tick related cases are increasing year on year. If the disease is caught early enough, it can be treated with antibiotics.

Approximately 2% of ticks in the UK carry Lyme disease.

Although the symptoms of Lyme disease are similar between humans and pets, here are the main symptoms for each:

  • Symptoms in dogs and cats:
    • An initial “bull’s eye” rash around the bite
    • Depression
    • Loss of appetite
    • Fever
    • Lameness
    • Lethargy
    • Swollen & painful joints
    • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Symptoms in humans:
    • Flu-like symptoms
    • Extreme tiredness
    • Muscle pain/weakness
    • Joint pain
    • Headaches
    • Can also include: “bull’s eye” rash, stomach ache, and poor sleep

Ticks can also carry other diseases, however these are more common outside of the UK. The main two are:

  • Ehrlichiosis – a disease of white blood cells
  • Babesiosis – a disease of red blood cells

Removal

Although ticks will eventually drop off when they’ve drunk enough, this usually takes about a week. During this time, the tick could be transferring disease to you or your pet so it’s essential to remove them as soon as possible.

Check yourself and your dog for ticks after every walk. Rub your hands over them feeling for any unusual bumps. Make sure to check their ears, head, neck, groin, armpits and feet.

Do not squeeze the tick as you will force the blood inside it back into your dog which puts them at greater risk of disease. Additionally, do not stress the tick by poking, prodding, burning it with a flame or covering it in Vaseline, as it will regurgitate the blood back into your dog. The best way to remove a tick is with tick tweezers or a tick remover.

example of a removal of a tick

The tick remover I recommend is O’Tom’s Tick Hook which you can purchase here

If you find yourself struggling to see the tick due to darkness or long fur, I recommend Trixie’s Tick Tweezers with a built in LED which you can purchase here.

Once you’ve removed the tick, wrap it tightly in sellotape, place in a sealed container or flush it down the toilet.

If the head remains in the skin, seek advice from your vet or doctor.

Prevention

The best way to avoid tick bites and diseases is prevention.

For dogs, this is usually done with spot on treatments, tablets or special collars. These kill or repel the ticks when they bite.

For humans, wear long sleeved clothes and trousers. Tuck your trousers into your socks for added protection. You can also purchase insect repellents to repel ticks. It is also important to check yourself and your dog regularly, especially after walking through long grass or plants and brush off any ticks before they can bite.

I hope this has helped you to become more aware of ticks and given you the knowledge on what to do if you or your pet are bitten. Don’t forget that if you are unsure about a tick or are unable to remove it yourself, please seek advice from your vet (for your pet) or your doctor (for yourself).



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