Spring is here, even if the weather doesn’t seem to be on board! With the lengthening days and blossoms blooming we begin to see a blossoming of ticks. Not so beautiful! Ticks are arachnids that bite animals to take a blood meal to further their life cycle. The most common type of tick is Ixodes ricinus or the sheep tick. They often affect sheep but can bite any species, including dogs cats and humans
Ticks bite at least three times in their lifecycle. They look different at every stage; the most well known is the engorged female, but they also feed at the larva and nymph stages.
Ticks find their meals by climbing to the tips of long grass or foliage and wait for a warm body to pass. They wave their forelegs out to try to catch hold. Once aboard they will often travel to a site where the skin is thinner. Between the toes, on the face, arm pits etc. are favourite places though they can still bite anywhere.
Like mosquitos, when a tick bites they first inject an anti-coagulant to prevent the blood clotting. Unfortunately this anti-coagulant may also contain some diseases which then enter the blood stream. Lyme disease is the most well known with its characteristic target shaped rash. This affects humans and pets and can be crippling. Less well known are the canine-specific diseases. Most notably is a nasty disease that used to only be present in warmer climates like southern Europe. The relaxation of the compulsory tick coverage on the pet passport system as well as abuse of the system has allowed the more exotic nymphs to hitch a ride right into England. This has meant that the tick-borne disease Babesia has been diagnosed in dogs that have never left the country nor had any known contact with dogs that have. This is a very worrying trend.
Removing ticks must also be done very carefully. The longer a tick is attached the more likely it is to pass on a disease, so getting them off quickly is important. However, if you go to remove it and don’t mange to remove the head as well (the head is easily broken off), then a reaction will occur around the site. While attaching, ticks screw their mouth parts in through the skin. To remove them you must carefully twist the tick around a few times without pulling and it will fall away. Tick twisters are small hook-like tools that are cheap to buy and very easy to use; they should be a staple in any camping or walking holiday kit.
Our advice is to keep your pets covered for ticks with a prescription strength product. Ticks are particularly tenacious so home remedies don’t tend to work. If not covered with an anti-parasitic then you must check your dogs and cats over very carefully after walks that take them through the hot spots.
There have been reports lately that there is a surge in ticks on the Northam Burrows.
For further advice and information then please speak to your vet!
Alice England RVN Fdn.