“Rocky” was a handsome, young Black Labrador. He was brought into the surgery as he had a tick lesion noted above his Left eye. Rocky was very patient as I settled him down and bathed his lesion gently and used a magnifying light to get a better look...
Ticks are small, dark brown creatures that are closely related spiders and can be predominantly found lurking in long, grassy areas and in bracken. They are not just a warm weather problem; ticks can now be found in your dog's environment throughout the year. They are parasites, so they will always require a host to feed from. Ticks are also vectors of disease processes and they pick up disease from one host and then can pass it onto another (including humans), resulting in a serious risk of diseases such as Lyme disease.
Ticks rank second only to mosquitoes in causing infectious disease to spread to both pets and people. In recent research people and pets are more likely to encounter ticks in the months of August and September, with the Highlands of Scotland noted as a particular area of high risk.
The most common tick in the UK is the sheep tick. Deer ticks are also prevalent in the Highlands. Ticks are parasites with large jaws that attach to pets, and humans, and then feed on their blood. They look for hosts to latch onto, often by climbing to the top of a long blade of grass or bracken and wait for passing mammalian traffic to attach to as their host. Varying in shape, colour and size, ticks are generally brown, oval, flat and small: the size of a sesame seed when unfed, but they grow rapidly when they latch on and start feeding. They may also change colour when feeding too, often going from brown to a pearly grey. Once completely engorged with blood, they grow to the size and shape of a large, round coffee bean.
We are seeing many more ticks than before, possibly due to the milder, wet winters now. In Great Britain, the distribution of ticks is estimated to have expanded by 17% in the last decade alone, and the number of ticks has increased in some studied locations by as much as 73%.
Although tick bites can be uncomfortable, especially if ticks are not removed properly and infections develop, it is the diseases carried and transmitted by ticks that pose the largest threat to our pets, which can be life-threatening in some cases. Ticks aren't just pests that feed on your dog and cause him to itch after they latch on, they can also be carriers of some very serious diseases. UK ticks can carry a devastating condition called Lyme disease caused by a bacterium: Borrelia burgdorferi, infection from which affects both muscle and nerve cells. Animals with Lyme disease may experience lameness, recurrent fevers, and lethargy, while humans may show a distinctive "bullseye” type rash, joint pain, fever, and headaches. If incorrectly diagnosed, and even left untreated, Lyme disease can result in an extremely serious debilitating chronic illness, often with lifelong complications. While the number of cases of Lyme disease is rising, unfortunately it is a very difficult disease to diagnose, often with vague symptoms.
Preventative treatment against ticks is of vital importance. There are many safe products on the market to prevent, repel and kill ticks: There are “spot-on” treatments, sprays, and tablets that you would use monthly, also now there are spot on treatments and palatable tablets that can give up to twelve weeks protection, and impregnated tick repellent collars that can last for up to eight months.
On returning home from any walks with your dog do check all over your pet's body for signs of any ticks. The most common place to find ticks on them are on their head, ears, legs, armpits, and tummy. If you do find a tick on your dog, don’t panic, and do resist the urge to just pull it straight off. This may be painful for your dog and ticks always need to be removed slowly and carefully, as embedded mouth parts can be left behind. Also, if live ticks are ‘stressed’, poked, and prodded they may regurgitate their recent blood meal back into their host along with any disease that they are carrying, increasing the chances of disease transmission. Also, tick mouth parts can be left behind which could cause a local tissue reaction, inflammation, and secondary infection. There are some excellent Tick removing tools. However, do speak to your Vet and Vet support team first about how to effectively remove them. Groom your pet regularly and thoroughly after walks, and use the advised, regular, preventative tick treatments all year round, as ticks can now be found even in the colder winter months.
Thankfully, Rocky’s owners had used a good three-monthly tick treatment and so the tick had not survived to attach and feed. It was a dead, desiccated tick and so it was easily removed in the consultation with a tick remover tool.
There is no one way to completely stop your pet from getting ticks, but there is a lot you can do to reduce the risk of them attaching onto and then feeding from your pet. Always contact your Vet practice for good, professional advice and use a preventative tick treatment that repels and kills them if they do attach.
Use a good tick preventative and repellent treatment all year round as reassurance and continue to check your pet over after each walk for any unwanted, rogue passengers!