It’s really easy to focus on flea control and regular worming, but it’s important that we don’t forget about the other major parasite in the UK – ticks. In this blog, we’re going to look at ticks, the problems they cause, and the best ways to control and kill them!
What are ticks?
Ticks are small blood-sucking parasites that are closely related to spiders. Most ticks have a number of developmental stages (egg, larva, nymph and adult), each of which (except the eggs!) must take a blood meal before they can progress. Typically, they will undergo one metamorphosis per year, but in ideal conditions (mild winter, warm and wet spring, summer and autumn) they may progress faster.
There are three important species in the UK – the Sheep Tick (Ixodes ricinus, also known as the Castor Bean Tick), the Hedgehog Tick (Ixodes hexagonus), and the Meadow Tick (Dermacentor reticularis). They cannot fly or spin webs, so they climb up grass or other vegetation to smell out their prey (this is called “Questing”).
Once a dog (or human, or sheep, or whatever) passes by, the parasite climbs on board and starts to suck blood. Most adults are only about 3mm long; the males will fill their stomachs and then move off in search of a mate, but the females expand like little balloons, getting bigger and bigger as they drink more and more.
Why are they a problem?
As well as being horrid little parasites that irritate our pets, ticks can also transmit a number of nasty diseases. The two most important are:
- Lyme Disease (also known as Borreliosis). The bacteria typically cause recurrent lameness and arthritis, loss of appetite and lethargy, but can also lead to kidney, heart or brain damage. Lyme Disease can also affect humans, but it cannot be caught from your dog – only via a tick bite.
- Babesiosis. This is a new and unwelcome immigrant to the UK, only being diagnosed for the first time in 2016. The Babesia canis parasites attack red blood cells, leading to anaemia which may even be fatal.
These infections are transmitted when the ticks starts backwashing its saliva into the bite – usually about 24-48 hours after starting to feed.
At present we are not aware of any cases of these diseases that have originated in Bristol. However, we are aware of cases of Lyme’s disease from the Forest of Dean and other areas – so it is a real potential threat.
What control measures are there?
There are four possible ways to control ticks:
- Avoid places where they go questing – ticks typically like damp areas with tall vegetation, such as moorland covered in bracken. However, they can be found across the UK, in almost every park and footpath. As a result, avoiding ticks, even in the town or city, isn’t usually possible. There are ticks in some of the parks in Bristol for example on the Downs & in Troopers Hill Park.
- Medications to kill them – there are a range of products available to kill ticks after they’ve climbed on and started feeding, formulated as spot-ons, collars and even tablets. Some of these (such as fipronil) take 48 hours or more to kill the ticks, and are therefore less effective at preventing the transmission of disease. Others kill much faster, and are therefore more effective at this (see below).
- Treatments to repel them – some collars and spot-ons contain pyrethroid compounds (derived from chrysanthemums, interestingly!) that not only kill ticks, but actually repel them too. We don’t generally recommend these products as we have found them to be less effective.
- Removing and killing them after they’ve attached themselves – no product will ever be 100% effective at killing ticks at once; if, however, you can remove the beastie before it has a chance to backwash and infect your dog, you should. However, you can’t just pull them out, or you’ll leave their head embedded under the skin. Likewise, you shouldn’t put any toxic chemical (like salt, tobacco, or even paraffin cream) on them, as this increases the risk that they will transmit the bugs before they die. Instead, you should use a tick hook to twist them out – if you need to know how, talk to one of our nurses!
Which is the best?
That depends on your dog and their specific lifestyle, and our vets will be able to advise you which is the most suitable for you. However, we’re increasingly recommending a new sarolaner based product that comes as a tasty tablet for dogs. This product works against the 4 most prevalent ticks present both in the UK and EU, kills them within 12 hours of administration and “killing” persists for at least a month. In addition, it is an effective and rapid killer of fleas and mites.
And it’s now available on our monthly Active Health Club Plan.
If you want more information or help – drop in and talk to one of our vets for advice!
If your dog has a tick that you can’t remove by using a tick-removing hook, or you think they may have a tick-borne disease, give us a ring for advice!