Now that summer is here, it’s possible that a walk in the countryside might end with either you or your pet becoming a little too well acquainted with ticks. This week we look at these pesky parasites, and share some tips as to what to do should you encounter them.
What are ticks?
More than 20 species of ticks can be found in the UK, commonly using wildlife and livestock as their unwilling hosts. However, as ticks are attracted by the body heat and chemical traces from the breath and body odour of mammals, it is not uncommon for them to attach to any passing dogs, cats or horses (as well as to us humans!)
Ticks feed on the blood of mammals, but as they cannot fly or jump, they climb up long grasses and vegetation and simply wait for a passing meal. Before feeding, ticks are just a couple of millimetres long, and are usually a reddish dark brown or black colour. It is very difficult to spot them at this stage, and it might not be until they have swollen to a much greater size following a couple of days’ feeding, that you notice them on your pet.
Why are they a problem?
Apart from being unpleasant, ticks carry a range of diseases (Bartonellosis, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis and Borreliosis – better known as Lyme Disease), each of which can cause a range of potentially very serious symptoms in cats, dogs and horses. Not all of these diseases are found in all countries; for example they are rare in the UK but much more common in USA. A preventative vaccination has recently been developed for use in dogs, and your vet can give you more information on this.
Removing ticks safely
Most of us have heard horror stories about ticks: they can leave their head attached unless removed correctly, they can burrow into the skin or lay eggs in their host. These are all myths! But whilst ticks do not have heads, it is also true that unless removed carefully with the correct tools, their mouthparts can be left behind, causing an infection risk. Using your fingers to twist or pull a tick off your pet, or smothering it in petroleum jelly to suffocate it, can also do more harm than good, as the tick may regurgitate saliva back into its host, again posing an infection risk.
There are only two ways to safely remove a tick: using either fine-tipped tweezers or a special tick-removing tool such as the O’Tom Tick Twister.
- Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull upwards
- Do not twist or jerk the tick as this may leave its mouth parts embedded
- Do not squeeze or crush the body of the tick (hence why flat-ended tweezers are unsuitable)
- Do not handle the tick with bare hands, and avoid touching your eyes, nostrils or mouth
- Disinfect the bite site with an antiseptic wipe or wound wash and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
Of course, your veterinary practice will be very happy to help you out if the whole prospect of tick removal makes you feel queasy!
Much more information on ticks and the diseases they carry can be found HERE.
Consult your vet practice for advice and guidance on preventing and treating tick infestation.
Until next time, very best wishes.
Please note: The Ralph Site is not affiliated with the third-party organisations in any of the links shared here, and the views, ideas and suggestions expressed in this and other blogs are simply shared with the intention of helping you, our friends, take care of the special animals in your lives.