Ticks are spider-like, egg-shaped, blood-sucking creepy crawlies. They have eight legs and vary in size from about 1mm to 1cm long. Adult ticks look a bit like small spiders.
Ticks are common in woodland, grassland, and heath areas, but can also be found in your garden if you live in an area with lots of wildlife. You are most likely to come across them in areas with lots of deer or sheep, between spring and autumn, but they are active throughout the year.
Ticks don’t fly or jump but climb or drop on to your dog’s coat when they brush past the area they are walking. They are big enough to see, just run your hands over your dog’s body when you get back from a walk to check for any lumps or bumps. They tend to attach themselves to areas around a dog’s head, neck, ear, and feet. Brushing your dog also helps to remove them.
Ticks vary in size between 1mm and 1cm long, depending on their age. They look like tiny spiders with a whiteish, egg-shaped body. This body becomes larger and darker as it fills with blood.
Ticks carry diseases, so it is important to remove any that attach themselves to your dog as soon as possible, as rapid removal lessens the risk of disease. Be careful not to squeeze the tick’s body or allow its head to get stuck inside your dog. Squeezing a tick’s body can cause it to expel blood back into your dog, increasing the risk of infection. Twisting them off your dog is the best removal method, and pet shops sell handy tick-removal devices to make this easier.
Ticks are very good at passing on infections from one animal to another. They feed by biting an animal and feasting on blood. This may take several days and once they have had enough, they drop off. Ticks transmit microbes that cause diseases, such as Lyme disease and Babesiosis. (see below) If you live in an area with ticks, it is a good idea to use a tick treatment that will either repel ticks or kill them if they attach. Spot on treatments, tablets and collars are available and it is best to consult your vet about which is most suitable for your pet. Read the instructions very carefully as some treatments are for dogs only and can be extremely dangerous to cats and can even kill them.
Lyme disease is a serious bacterial infection. If your dog has Lyme disease, you may notice they become depressed and lose their appetite. Other symptoms include fever, lameness, swollen and painful joints, and swollen lymph nodes. If you think your pet has Lyme disease, contact your vet. They can perform tests and start treatment with antibiotics.
People can catch Lyme disease from ticks, just as dogs can. Lyme disease is serious, so if you walk your dog in areas with deer or sheep make sure you take precautions to avoid being bitten. Symptoms of Lyme disease include a circular rash, muscle and joint pain, and fatigue. Left untreated, the disease can develop into conditions such as viral-like meningitis, facial palsy, arthritis and nerve damage. Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics if caught early. Remember to tell your doctor you have been bitten by a tick. Be particularly careful abroad as ticks in Europe can transmit a number of serious diseases.
Babesiosis is extremely rare in the UK and the tick that spreads it is so far only found in southern England and on the continent. The first cases of dogs being treated for the disease, caused by the bacterium Babesia, were reported in March 2016.
Babesiosis can be spread by tick bites. The incubation period is about two weeks, but some pets are not diagnosed with the disease for months or years after transmission. If your dog is suffering from babesiosis you may notice they are depressed, have pale gums, a swollen abdomen, and a fever. They may also lose their appetite and their skin may become yellowish. If you notice any of these symptoms after walking your dog in a tick-infested area, contact your vet and make sure to tell them your dog may have been bitten by a tick. Sadly a dog died after contracting the disease in Harlow, Essex.
After you’ve removed the tick, give the bite area a good wash and make sure you dispose of the tick properly without releasing it into the open so they can attach themselves to another unsuspecting pet or human.
You can dispose of a tick in alcohol or on a fire.