Advice on Tick Prevention

Written by: Alison Laurie, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness

Ticks rank second only to mosquitoes in causing infectious disease spread to both pets and people.

What are Ticks? 

Ticks are small creatures that are closely related to dark brown spiders and they can be predominantly found lurking predominately in grassy areas and in bracken. They are parasites, and so they always require a host to feed from and to provide somewhere to find a mate for breeding too. Ticks can also be vectors, i.e. carriers of many disease processes, and they can pick up disease from one mammalian host and then pass it onto another (including humans) resulting in a serious risk of disease spread.

Varying in shape, colour and size, ticks are generally oval, flat and small: the size of a sesame seed when unfed, but once completely engorged with blood, they grow to the size and shape of a large, coffee bean. They look for hosts to latch onto, climbing to the top of a long blade of grass and wait for passing mammalian traffic, i.e. a sheep, dog, cat, hedgehog, or even yourself!

Ticks aren't just pests that feed on your dog and cause him to itch after they latch onto your pet's skin, they can also be carriers of some very serious diseases. UK ticks can carry a devastating condition called Lyme disease caused by Borrelia bacteria, which can affect both muscle and nerve cells.

Animals with Lyme disease may experience intermittent lameness, recurrent fevers and lethargy, while humans may show a rash, joint pain and aches, fevers, and headaches. If incorrectly diagnosed, and even left untreated, it can result in an extremely serious debilitating chronic illness often with lifelong complications.

While the number of human cases of Lyme disease is rising, unfortunately it is often a difficult disease to diagnose in dogs often with vague signs of sudden joint pain, lethargy and fever. 

Ticks are commonly more prevalent and active in open moorland, grassy areas in fields and woodland and also they are also found in urban gardens. Don't be fooled into thinking that they are just a warm weather problem; they can now be found in your surrounding environment throughout the year.

These days, it is not just on local walks that you need to be aware of the presence of ticks. Worryingly now Foreign ticks, such as the exotic brown dog tick has been found within the UK on dogs that have recently travelled within Europe.   With a recent 75% increase in pet movement into the UK now, it is now more important than ever to protect your pet against the risk of ticks with a good preventative Tick treatment.

Preventative treatment against ticks is of vital importance.

There are many safe products on the market to prevent ticks: There are “spot-ons” and sprays that you would use monthly, also now there are also palatable tablets that can give up to 12 weeks effective protection and also special collars impregnated with substances that infiltrate into the fatty layer in your dog's skin, killing ticks for up to eight months when they attempt to feed from the protected host.

Human’s out and about enjoying countryside walks should always tuck their trousers into socks to help prevent ticks directly latching onto their skin, and on returning home, especially from areas such as parks and woodlands, check all over your own and your pet's body for signs of ticks.

What do I do if I find a tick on my dog?

Ticks can be dangerous for any age of dog and indeed any breed (although long-haired breeds are probably more susceptible to picking them up) so it's important to know what to do if you spot one.

Importantly, please don't panic and resist the urge to just pull it straight off. This may be painful for your dog so ticks always need to be removed slowly and carefully, otherwise embedded mouth parts can be left behind. Or if ticks are 'stressed' - poked and prodded or burnt with a flame, or, as is commonly done, covered in Vaseline to suffocate them - the ticks may then regurgitate their recent blood meal back into their host along with any disease that they may be carrying, thus thereby increasing the chances of further disease transmission.

If found on your dog, ticks must be removed, however if done incorrectly, tick mouth parts can be left behind which could result in a local tissue reaction, inflammation and infection often requiring antibiotics, or even surgical removal.  Therefore you may wish to speak to a vet about techniques on how to remove them effectively. There are some excellent Tick removing tools now available for this job.

To find out more about ticks, how to identify them, preventative treatment or how to remove them, please contact the practice for good professional advice.

 Tips for avoiding ticks for you and for your pet

  • When out walking, wear suitable clothing i.e. long trousers and tuck those into socks,  wearing skirts or shorts in tick habitat is an invitation to be bitten!
  • Insect repellents can be sprayed on to your own clothing, but do always carefully follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Do carry a good tick removal tool and some antiseptic wipes.
  • Walk in the centre of paths and avoid over-hanging vegetation at the edge of paths, bracken and heather where ticks may be waiting.
  • Check your body after walking in tick habitat and do be your dog's 'tick buddy' and check over his body too after his walks.
  • Deter ticks from gardens: keep leaf litter to a minimum, keep grass short, keep vegetation cut back, and keep seating and play equipment away from long grass, leafy borders, trees and bird feeders.
  • Keep pets tick free by regularly using an advised preventative tick-control products advised by your Vet.
  • Groom your pets regularly and thoroughly: make sure you brush against, as well as with the hair growth to locate any deeply embedded ticks. Also check inside your pet's ears, around the eyes, on the chin and around the muzzle, as well as between the pads and toes.
  • Don't bring ticks into your home; take off your outer clothes before going indoors after a walk.  Tests have demonstrated that ticks can survive a full cycle in the washing machine and also short periods in a tumble dryer!!

For good advice on Ticks and on Tick prevention for your pets do contact us for advice of preventative treatments.  It is always better to use preventative tick treatments all year round and as advised by your Vet as Ticks can now be found even in the colder winter months.