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Ticks and small animals

Ticks are small parasites that can range in size from a pinhead, before feeding, to the size of a fingernail after feeding. Ticks feed on the blood of animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, hedgehogs, deer, cattle, sheep and humans. Only the female ticks actually feed on blood because they need it to lay their eggs. Female ticks can lay around 2000 eggs, after which they will die. Ticks cannot fly or jump, but they crawl into undergrowth and climb up long grasses from which they can attach to animals as they walk past.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet

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As such, long grass and woodland is the most common area to find ticks. Their numbers are increasing and owners are starting to spot them in previously unaffected areas; dogs and cats from urban areas are also being affected. This may be due to multiple factors. For example, changing weather patterns making conditions more favourable for tick survival, increased development on rural land, and an increase in the population of wild deer.

Several different species of tick are found in the UK. The Big Tick Project run by MSD identified Ixodes ricinus as the most common type of tick; it was present on 89% of infested dogs. 1,855 cats were also examined, 601 of which had attached ticks. The most frequently recorded tick species in cats was also Ixodes ricinus.

Tick-borne diseases are not caused by the ticks themselves, but by bacteria or parasites that may be found in their saliva. Our article about Lyme Disease can be found here.


Symptoms of a tick bite

  • A red mark where the tick has been removed: it should not persist for more than 2-3 days, and its size should not exceed a few millimeters
  • If the tick is dislodged, or removed incorrectly, leaving the mouthparts behind in the skin, localised reactions can occur.


How can you help your pet?

  • Speak to your vet about tick control that will rapidly kill or repel ticks
  • No product will prevent 100% of ticks feeding, so we recommend that you check your pet daily
  • Check your pet for ticks after walks or after being outside: make sure you check their ears, neck, skin folds, stomach and other crevices
  • Do not forget to check your cat or rabbit, after they have been in the garden
  • Use a tick fork to remove a tick, if you find one, as soon as possible (see instructions below)


What to do if you find a tick on your dog or cat?

Decide if you are happy to remove the tick. If not, make an appointment at your vet clinic for them to remove it. Ticks have tiny spines that hold them in place whilst feeding so it is very important to twist the tick to remove it. Pulling a tick away from the skin risks leaving the mouthparts in the skin. Use a specially designed tick removal fork to safely remove attached ticks to ensure that the mouthparts are not left behind.

When grasping the tick, it is essential not to squeeze the body as this can cause it to regurgitate their stomach and salivary gland contents, increasing the risk of disease transmission. The application of Vaseline, applying alcohol or burning will also increase this risk and are not recommended. Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the loo.


Travelling with your pet?

If your pet travels outside the UK on the PET travel scheme, be aware that ticks in other countries can carry diseases that are not found in the UK. These diseases can make your dog or cat very ill and can lead to death in severely affected or untreated cases. Therefore, preventative treatment for ticks is strongly recommended.

In 2012, the compulsory requirement to treat dogs for ticks on entering the UK was removed. In 2016 the first outbreak of Babesiosis was seen in dogs in the UK in Harlow and Essex. Babesiosis is a potentially fatal disease of dogs carried by ticks in Europe. The four affected dogs were from four separate households, they had no history of travel, and no association with travelling dogs. This highlights the need to monitor pets for ticks regularly and take preventive precautions.


When to see your physical veterinarian

  • If the redness associated with a tick bite persists or increases, or you notice any discharge from the area
  • If you notice any of the clinical signs of Lyme Disease above
  • A vaccination is available but its use is controversial. Therefore, it is only recommended for use in dogs with a known high risk of exposure - where the disease is endemic or where there are high numbers of ticks

Please note that any human health concerns should be addressed by your GP.


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