There’s no debating that ticks are nasty, unwelcome guests! These successful parasites feed off blood and they are something that everyone wants to avoid. As much as I dislike associating critters with food, I always feel as though adult ticks resemble yoghurt covered raisins! This article will cover the importance of tick control for your dog, what measures are currently in place and what problems ticks can cause.

What is a tick?

Ticks are external blood-sucking parasitic arachnids. Similar to spiders, adult ticks have eight legs, whilst the juvenile nymph forms have only six legs. Once a tick bites and attaches to an animal’s skin, they typically remain attached for a few days feeding on blood. Once a tick starts to feed, this provides a sneaky opportunity for the tick to transmit diseases to their host. 

There are many species of ticks across the UK, and many more worldwide. The sheep tick (Ixodes ricinus) is the most common UK tick species. Take a look here to check the tick risk in your local area.

Where does my dog get a tick from?

Ticks, like most species on this planet, have a favourable environment which they thrive in. Ticks prefer to live amongst dense vegetation such as woodland, heathland and long grasses. As ticks are unable to fly, they attach themselves to dogs when they brush past them. Ticks can also be more prevalent near farmlands and sheep. Therefore, if you regularly walk your dog near woodlands or farmlands, it is highly recommended to ensure your dog is protected against ticks.

What control measures are available?

It is strongly recommended to ensure that your dog is covered for ticks by ensuring that your dog receives regular flea, tick and worming control. To discuss the current control measures and products available, please contact your local Veterinary Practice. Depending on the product used, your dog may require monthly tick treatment and it may come in a tablet, spot-on form or a collar. Some Veterinary products kill the ticks within 24 hours of them attaching to the skin, some products repel them and prevent them from attaching in the first place. If you are taking your pet abroad it is also vital to ensure your dog has tick protection.

Why is tick control important for my dog?

The advantage of tick control is not only to repel them from biting your dog, but to more importantly prevent the risk of disease transmission. As vaccinations are not currently available against many of the tick borne diseases, tick control is the only way to protect your dog from these infections.

What problems can ticks cause?

Ticks can act as intermediate hosts (harbours and transmits the immature stage of a parasite) for many life-threatening infectious diseases and below is a list of diseases spread by ticks, not only in the UK but also across the globe. The below list is not exhaustive.

Lyme Disease

  • This is an infectious bacterial disease spread by ticks caused by a bacteria called Borrelia. Once this disease is transmitted to dogs, the most common signs are lethargy, fever, lameness and stiffness as the bacteria has a tendency to attack the joints, as well as the kidneys. Lyme disease can not only infect your dog but it can also infect you too! There are around 900 reported cases per year of Lyme disease in people across the UK. There is a vaccine available for dogs, but there have been reports of difficulty getting hold of it. 

Babesiosis

  • This disease is caused by the parasite Babesia and it infects your dog’s red blood cells. It is spread by the Dermacentor reticulatus tick which is present only in some areas of the UK. Affected dogs quickly become very ill and develop anaemia, pale gums and often collapse.

Ehrlichiosis

  • Canine ehrlichiosis, caused by the organism Ehrlichia canis, is a bacterial disease transmitted by ticks, usually the brown dog tick. This disease infects your dog’s white blood cells and causes a depletion of thrombocytes (cells responsible for normal blood clotting). Some of the clinical signs include lethargy, anaemia, bleeding and fever. Ehrlichiosis is not common in the UK, as the brown dog tick prefers warmer climates. Canine ehrlichiosis is specific to dogs, but humans can become infected with other ehrlichiosis species.

To summarise, the above diseases can all infect dogs and most pose a human health risk! However – you can only contract the disease if you get bitten by the carrier tick! If you encounter a tick on you or are concerned you may have been recently bitten, contact your local GP for further advice.

What do I do if my dog has a tick? 

It is sensible to check your dog for ticks every day. Ticks will attach to any area of skin, however the most common places they attach are: inside their ears, on their head, feet, underneath their collar. They can sometimes be really tricky to spot because of their small size, especially if they have only recently attached. Sometimes the adult ticks are easier to spot once they are full of blood and are much bigger.

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Ticks should be removed from your dog as soon as possible but it is really important to remove them correctly and safely.

Do not attempt to directly pull the tick out with your fingers or tweezers. This could create more harm because if the head or mouthpart remains attached to your dog’s skin, it can lead to further problems including infections. It is recommended to either use a correct tick removal tool, also known as a ‘tick twister’ or to contact your local Vet for assistance with removal.

There’s no denying that ticks are successful little creatures at transmitting diseases

However, the current control measures in place are thankfully more successful. Prevention is always better than cure, therefore it is important to ensure your dog is up to date with tick prevention. I hope this article has taught you why controlling ticks is so important for both you and your dog. 

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