Tick and Lyme disease FAQs
What are ticks?
Ticks are blood sucking parasites, related to spiders, that worldwide rank second only to mosquitoes in disease transmission to pets and people.
Ticks require a host to feed from and provide a meeting place to mate. Ticks can pick up disease from one host and pass it to another (including humans), spreading disease. Ticks tend to be more active in late spring and autumn but can be found throughout the year.
How do I know if my dog/cat has a tick?
Ticks can vary in shape, colour and size but generally, when unfed they are oval, flat and small, the size of a sesame seed. They can have either 6 or 8 legs, depending on the life cycle stage. Once they are completely engorged with blood they are coffee-bean-shaped. Please get in touch with your vet if you think you have found a tick on your pet and are worried.
I think my dog has a tick – what should I do?
If you are worried your pet has a tick, seek advice from your vet about how to remove it safely. It is important not to try to burn the tick or pull it off with your fingers, as this could lead to incomplete removal of the tick.
How do I remove a tick?
Removing a tick needs to be done very carefully so as not to leave the mouthparts behind in the skin (which can result in infection). Special tick removal tools are available- for instructions on removing ticks ask your vet to show you or visit bada-uk.org
How big is a tick?
Unfed ticks can be as small as a sesame seed while an engorged tick resembles a coffee bean, but they can vary in size and shape. The small size of ticks, especially before they feed, means that it’s easy to miss them until they have been attached for several days.
How common are ticks?
Ticks are commonly found across the UK and 43% of pet owners have seen a tick on their dog*. Tick numbers also appear to be increasing, with many tick species being found over wider areas or in places not noted previously. Changes in climate and numbers of wildlife hosts play a role in tick numbers.
*Source: Companion Consultancy Pet Owner Market Research June 2012.Petbuzz, Social Media for PET brands.
Where are ticks likely to be found?
Suitable habitats for ticks are areas of woodland, grassland and moorland. Urban parks and gardens also provide a suitable habitat for ticks. They can even be found on beaches.
I live in the city so ticks shouldn’t be a problem, should they?
Ticks are increasingly being found in urban parks and gardens, especially as there are changes in fox and deer populations and due to the increase in ‘green’ areas in the city – they’re not just a rural issue.
Do dogs get ticks in kennels?
Although ticks are most commonly picked up outside, some species of ticks can also be found indoors or in kennels.
When are ticks a problem?
Ticks are a year-round threat although their activity tends to peak in Spring and Autumn so they may be more noticeable during those times.
What are the different types of ticks?
The ticks most commonly found on pets in the UK are Ixodes ricinus (sheep/deer tick), Ixodes hexagonus (hedgehog tick) and Ixodes canisuga (British dog or fox tick). Dermacentor reticulatus is also sometimes found on pets in specific areas. Rhipicephalus sanguineus (brown dog or kennel tick), is very common to the Mediterranean region although is widespread across Europe. It is sometimes found on pets in the UK that have recently travelled from Europe. For more information on tick species, visit www.esccapuk.org.uk
How long do ticks live?
They can live for up to 3 years depending on the climate and available hosts. A tick will feed on the blood of a single host in each of its life stages: larva, nymph and adult.
What is the risk to pets?
Ticks can cause irritation and infection at the site of attachment. Ticks feed on the blood of their hosts and in very heavy infestations this can lead to blood loss and anaemia. Importantly, ticks rank second only to mosquitoes in disease transmission to pets and people. This includes viruses, bacteria and protozoa. In addition, some ticks found abroad can transmit toxins that result in the paralysis of the animal.
What diseases are transmitted by ticks?
Ticks can transmit a variety of different diseases to pets and people. The most common in the UK and Ireland is Lyme disease, which is caused by a bacteria that affects muscles, joints and the nervous system. In Europe, several other serious diseases affecting dogs are transmitted by ticks. These include canine Babesia which affects red blood cells and causes anaemia, and Ehrlichia canis which infects white blood cells and can result in excessive bleeding. If left untreated, both diseases can be fatal. More information on these and other disease can be found at www.esccapuk.org.uk
Do all ticks carry diseases?
Not all ticks carry diseases, however worldwide, ticks rank second only to mosquitoes in disease transmission to pets and people. So it’s vital to protect pets against them.
What is the difference between ticks and fleas?
Ticks are external parasites, related to spiders (the arachnid family). Worldwide, ticks rank second only to mosquitoes in disease transmission to pets and people. Fleas are also external parasites but are from the insect family. Fleas are able to transmit diseases such as cat-scratch disease and tapeworms.
Can humans get ticks?
Yes, ticks can also latch onto humans as well as animals and transmit disease, such as Lyme disease.
Can humans catch ticks from their pet?
Once attached to a host (such as a dog), ticks generally stay on that same host until they have finished feeding and then drop off. Humans generally pick up ticks when out walking in woodland or other areas where ticks are found and will therefore not catch ticks from their pets.
When and how should I check my pets for ticks?
Whenever your pet has been outdoors, especially at times of increased tick activity -and if you have been in an area that you don’t normally visit, you should check your pet regularly. Part their fur and pay particular attention to areas where the fur is thinner, such as their head, neck and tummy. If you do find a tick attached, ask your vet how to use a tick remover correctly to avoid leaving the head in the skin.
How can I protect pets from ticks?
After being outdoors, especially in areas such as parks and woodlands where ticks might be more prevalent, pets should be checked for ticks. If found, they can be carefully removed using a special tick remover (being careful not to leave the head behind) – when in doubt ask your vet to help you!
Using an appropriate tick control product regularly will help to kill most ticks before they have a chance to transmit disease. Bear in mind that many products do not stop ticks from climbing on or attaching and require around 48 hours to be effective so you may still see ticks on treated pets. Some products kill ticks faster than others- ask your vet for advice.
How can I protect myself and my family from ticks?
If you are worried about a tick on you or a family member, seek advice from a human healthcare professional. Steps you can take to reduce the risk for yourself include avoidance of high risk areas, wearing suitable clothing which covers bare skin and using insect repellents. For more information on how to reduce the risk of ticks to humans, please visit www.bada-uk.org
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a tick-borne bacterial infection which affects several different mammalian species, including humans and dogs.
What causes it?
Lyme disease is caused by infection with bacteria from the Borrelia family. Ticks acquire the bacteria when they feed on small mammals or birds which are carrying the disease, and these ticks then pass on the infection if they subsequently feed on people or dogs.
How common is it?
Lyme disease is the most common vector borne disease in Europe, with an estimated 65,000 human cases reported each year in Europe. In the UK, the disease seems to be a growing threat, with a 300% increase in reported human cases since 2000.
What dogs are at risk?
Any dog that could be exposed to ticks is potentially at risk. Dogs with a history of tick bites and dogs that are regularly walked where ticks are commonly found (woodland, heathland, grassy pasture, urban parks) are considered to be at risk. Some parts of the UK are recognised as particularly high risk (“hot-spot” areas)- please visit the Health Protection Agency website for more information- www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/LymeDisease/
Can people catch Lyme disease from dogs?
No. People can only be infected by a bite from an infected tick.
What are the symptoms of disease in dogs?
Some dogs will not show any signs after being infected: this is called “subclinical infection”. Other dogs will show signs of lethargy/lack of energy, be off their food, fever, painful lameness (which can affect multiple legs) and swelling of lymph nodes/glands. In rare cases, more serious and potentially fatal complications involving the kidney or nervous system can develop.
How long after a tick bite will a dog show signs of disease?
There can be a long delay, often several months, between the tick bite and the onset of symptoms. This can make diagnosis challenging, as the tick bite may not have been noticed or may have been forgotten.
What are the symptoms of disease in people?
People with Lyme disease often develop a rash at the site of the tick bite- this red rash often resembles a “bulls-eye” or “target” and is called erythema migrans. However, it’s not seen in every case. Other signs include flu-like symptoms and the disease can also affect the joints and nervous system. For more information on human disease, please visit www.bada-uk.org or speak to your doctor.
How is it treated?
Antibiotics can be used and are generally effective at relieving the symptoms. However, it is difficult to eliminate the bacteria completely and relapses can occur at a later date.
How can I protect my pet?
Protecting your pet against ticks is very important in the prevention of Lyme disease. Avoiding high-risk areas, examining your pet for ticks after walks and promptly removing any that you find and regularly using an appropriate tick preventative product are all important steps to take. A vaccine to protect dogs from Lyme disease is also available. Ask your vet for advice on the best ways to protect your pet.
Can my pet get ticks abroad?
Yes they can. Ticks are very common in some European countries and there are also a greater variety of tick-borne diseases found abroad, so pets may be at increased risk whilst travelling. In order to reduce this risk it is strongly advisable to treat pets for ticks before they leave the UK and then regularly while they’re away. You should also ensure that pets are correctly treated before entering the UK from Europe to prevent exotic ticks being bought back into the country. Please ask your vet for advice if you are thinking about taking your dog abroad
How can I prevent ticks?
To prevent pets picking up ticks whilst abroad, it is strongly advisable to treat pets for ticks before they travel, then regularly whilst abroad and again shortly before they enter the UK from Europe (following the treatment intervals advised on the packaging).
What is the Pet Travel Scheme?
The Pet Travel Scheme is the system that allows pet dogs, cats and ferrets from abroad to enter the UK without quarantine as long as they meet the rules; as well allowing people in the UK to take their dogs, cats and ferrets to other countries and territories, and return with them to the UK without the need for quarantine. The rules are to keep the UK free from exotic diseases. For a full description of the requirements visit https://www.gov.uk/pet-travel-information-for-pet-owners
Has the Pet Travel Scheme changed recently?
The rules of the Pet Travel Scheme changed on January 1st 2012. The changes make it easier for pet owners to travel abroad with their pets and also for pets to enter the UK from other countries. For details on the Pet Travel Scheme visit https://www.gov.uk/pet-travel-information-for-pet-owners
Why did it change?
The Pet Travel Scheme changed in order to harmonise with the EU. This means that it is no longer mandatory to treat dogs, cats or ferrets for ticks before entering the UK. Many veterinary and animal organisations still strongly recommend that people use a suitable tick product to protect pets whilst abroad.
What is the impact of this particular change (tick control)?
If you do not take appropriate steps to protect your pet from the risks of tick-borne diseases prior to travelling, they may be at risk of contracting a tick-borne disease while abroad. Not treating pets for ticks before returning to the UK also increases the risk of exotic tick species being bought back with them, which could result in new populations being established in the UK
Are some areas abroad more likely to be affected by ticks?
For a real-time map showing the risk of different types of ticks in Europe at different times of the year, go to fleatickrisk.com and speak to your vet about the most suitable protection for the place you are visiting.
What should I do if I take my pet abroad?
The British Veterinary Association and the British Small Animal Veterinary Association recommend protective tick treatment for animals travelling outside the UK. Before you travel, it is advisable to apply a suitable product to reduce the risk of your pet becoming infected with a tick-borne disease whilst abroad. If you are going to be away for more than a month, treat your pet regularly according to the product packaging. Also check your pet regularly and carefully remove any ticks that are attached. Ensure that your pet is correctly treated before it returns to the UK to reduce the chance that foreign ticks will be bought back with you. For more information on the risk of ticks in various European countries, see www.fleatickrisk.com