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. In recent research people and pets are more likely to come into contact with an infected tick in the months of August and September, with the Highlands of Scotland noted as a particular area of high risk.
Ticks are small creatures that are closely related to dark brown spiders and can be predominantly found lurking in 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 be vectors of disease processes and pick up disease from one host and then pass it onto another (including humans), resulting in a serious risk of disease.
Varying in shape, colour and size, ticks are generally brown, 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, round coffee bean. They look for hosts to latch onto, often by climbing to the top of a long blade of grass and wait for passing mammalian traffic to attach to.
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, 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” 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 and repel ticks: There are “spot-on” treatments and sprays that you would use monthly, also now there are palatable tablets that can give up to 12 weeks protection and also impregnated tick collars that can last for up to eight months.
On returning home from any walks with your dog do check all over yourself and your pet's body for signs of any ticks. 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 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 local tissue reaction, inflammation and infection. There are some excellent Tick removing tools. However, do speak to us first about how to effectively remove them.
Groom your pet regularly and thoroughly after walks and use advised, regular, preventative tick treatments all year round.