Ticks are small parasites from the spider family.  They attach themselves to our pets and feed off their blood.  They can spend several days in this position, gradually becoming larger as they engorge.  They can also transmit diseases, some of which can be severe, but these are thankfully not very common in the UK.

What are ticks?

Ticks are from the spider family and feed by sucking blood from our pets.  They spend the majority of their lives in the environment and only attach to pets once or twice a year, so they can continue their lifecycle, which can take two to three years to complete.   They tend to be found in moorland type areas and are most prevalent in the Spring and Autumn.  The most common kinds of ticks found on pets in the UK are either Hedgehog or Sheep ticks.

How to tell if your pet has ticks

Ticks often get mistaken for warty growths or nipples (and vice versa!).  They look like small, grey beans attached to your pet’s skin and will grow gradually larger over a period of a few days.  They are most commonly found on the head, ears and legs as they prefer sparsely haired areas.

Generally ticks don’t cause the animal any discomfort or irritation and are often found by accident when you are grooming your pet.  However, sometimes after they have dropped off they can leave a small sore patch where they have bitten.

How to treat your pet for ticks

If you find a tick on your pet, the most important thing to do is to never just pull them out.  Simply pulling on the tick is likely to leave the head still buried in the skin, which can cause a nasty reaction. If you do decide to remove it directly, the best thing to use is a tick puller, a small L-shaped tool designed to slip between the tick and the skin and ‘twist’ them out.  The twisting action keeps the head attached.  The tick pullers will be available from your vet and it is always a good idea to get a demonstration on how to use them first.

Frontline spot-on, which is available from both your vet and over-the-counter, has an action against ticks and as long as your pet has been treated in the past month it will still be active.  However, although the tick will die within a few hours of attaching, it can still take a few days for it to fall off your pet.  It is comes as a spray but this is only available from vets.  There are other spot-ons active against ticks, ask your vet for advice on the best one to use.  There is also collars available which are impregnated with chemicals which stop ticks biting and are active for 6 months.  Again, these are only available from your vet.

Tick borne diseases

These are rare in the UK but with more and more pets traveling abroad with their owners, vets are seeing more  of the exotic tick borne diseases.

  • Lymes Disease – this is the only tick borne disease that is seen in the UK.  It is a bacterial infection and is usually passed by the sheep tick.  The symptoms are variable but can include; lameness, high temperatures, lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes and a distinctive ‘bulls eye’ pattern around the site of the tick bite.  It is treated with antibiotics and infected dogs generally do very well.
  • Ehrlichiosis – this is usually only seen in dogs who have traveled to Europe or the USA.  The symptoms include a high temperature, lack of appetite, weight loss and bleeding.  It is diagnosed by blood tests and although most dogs respond well to treatment, some will need hospitalisation.
  • Babesiosis – again this does not occur in the UK but is occasionally diagnosed in dogs who have traveled outside the country. Symptoms include lethargy, weakness, high temperatures and even collapse.  It can be challenging to treat.

These diseases are amongst the reasons why it is so important to protect your pet against parasites if they travel abroad.  The official regulations only require you to treat your pet just before you return to the UK but it is sensible to talk to your vet about protection for your pet during the whole length of your stay.  Tick borne diseases are very rare in cats.