Ticks are unwelcome hitchhikers that most owners will find on their dogs from time to time, usually after a nice ramble across the countryside.
Ticks are blood-sucking parasites related to spiders, they will climb vegetation and wait for a mammal to pass by, this could be a deer, hedgehog, your dog or even you. Once they have jumped onto an animal the tick will find an area of thin skin, where they will grasp on and insert their mouthparts. They excrete anti-clotting agent to prevent blood clots from stopping the flow of their blood meal. Depending on the life stage of the tick, it could attach itself to your dog for a period of one to two weeks.
Ticks are normally inactive in winter, becoming active again in spring and early summer, their activity reduces through the summer months, and then there is a second peak of activity in the autumn.
How might my dog become infected with ticks?
In the United Kingdom, the most common species of tick likely to affect your dog is the sheep tick, Ixodes ricinus or the hedgehog tick, Ixodes hexagonus. Habitats such as heathland, moors, and woodland are favoured by ticks, there is an increased presence in deer parks due to the availability of hosts. Walking your dog in the countryside will mean they are at an increased risk of ticks.
How do I know if my dog has a tick?
Ticks can be tricky to spot amongst your dog’s hair. The most common area to find a tick is on your dog’s head and legs, although they can attach anywhere on an animal’s body. Ticks will appear as grey or brown immobile growths or wart on your pet. As they feed on blood their bodies enlarge and they become easier to identify.
The bites of ticks can cause local irritation and inflammation, if they are scratched off and mouthparts are left buried in the skin a small abscess can result. When present in very large numbers they may cause substantial blood loss in young animals causing anaemia. However, the main danger of ticks is in the infections that they can carry.
Should I be concerned about tick-borne diseases?
Tick-borne disease is caused by infectious agents living within the tick, being transferred to your dog through the tick salivary fluids. Signs of a disease transmitted by ticks may appear either when the tick is still present or after it has dropped off. The incidence of tick-borne diseases in British dogs has been rising.
Lyme disease (borreliosis) is the only disease carried by UK ticks. Infected dogs may develop a fever, lose their appetite, or show signs of lethargy or arthritis. In chronic cases, Lyme disease can cause kidney, heart or nerve problems which can become fatal. These symptoms may not show for a long time after the infected tick has fallen off. If you are at all concerned that your dog is showing symptoms of Lyme disease book an appointment with your local vet. Humans can get Lyme disease too if bitten by an infected tick.
If your pet becomes ill after travelling abroad, ensure your vet is informed about where they have been in case they need to consider other tick-borne diseases not usually present in the United Kingdom.
How can I protect my dog from ticks?
Examine your dog’s coat on a daily basis and completely remove any ticks you find as soon as possible.
Use a ‘tick remover’ to help you extract the tick. A tick remover is hook-shaped with a slot that slides either side of the tick. This should be gently twisted several times to remove the mouthparts from your dog. Once removed examine the tick before disposal to ensure the tick is intact and there are no mouthparts still present in your dog’s skin. Gently clean the area after removal of the tick. If you are unsure if what you have found is a tick, or how to remove it, your local veterinary practice will be able to help.
Use a tick control product, such as Frontline Spot On, on a regular basis to reduce the number of ticks that can attach to your dog and reduce the chances of any ticks that do attach from spreading tick-borne diseases. You may use a tick control product all year round, but it is of the greatest importance during the peak activity times of spring and autumn. Protect My Pet will help to ensure you never miss a dose by having your tick preventative arriving in the post, just when it is needed.
Avoid walking your dog in areas known to have a large tick population, particularly at the times of year when ticks are known to be most active.
Humans can also be a food source for ticks, remember to protect yourself when walking in parks and woodlands. Tuck your trousers into socks and check your legs and ankles for ticks when you get home.
more information about ticks you can contact our friendly vet team.
Written by Lindsay Rose MA VetMB CertAVP CertVBM MRCVS.