A time bomb that's ticking - Dealing with ticks.
Ticks are benefiting from climate change, posing a threat to both human and animal health. We are informing all our clients at what you can do to protect both your dog and yourself.
It is widely reported that tick numbers are increasing. The apparent changes in seasons are also favouring the spread of ticks that were previously only found in warmer parts of the continent towards northern Europe and the UK. As well as being unpleasant for you and your dog they can also be involved in the transmission of some diseases.
What are ticks?
Ticks are blood sucking parasites which are capable of attaching to the skin of most animals and birds. They are generally found in damp areas of dense vegetation and attach to the animal to feed then drop off. The main areas for tick attachment on the dog are the head, ears, legs and undercarriage.
When a tick attaches it uses its mouthparts to cut into the top layer of skin. It then inserts a tube with backwards facing teeth through the skin and towards the vessels below. A cement-like substance passes down the tube and helps to anchor everything firmly in place before enzymes and anti-clotting agents are released to allow the tick to start feeding.
When they first attach they are the size of a small pinhead but some may grow to the size of a large pea and may be mistaken for a bluish-grey lump or wart. Some dogs never experience a problem when ticks attach but others will experience a reaction at the tick site, varying from the development of a small scab to a huge swelling the size of a walnut or more.
If the body of the tick is removed but the mouthparts remain a lump often develops; dogs will find this irritating and if they scratch it often creates an infection at the site. Fortunately nearly all of these cases will get better without treatment or, if needed, respond to a short course of antibiotics.
Several types of tick are present in the UK but not all of them are associated with disease transmission. One that is, however, is Ixodes ricinus - the sheep or deer tick - which has been identified in the spread of Borrelia burgdorferi the agent that causes Lyme disease.
These ticks are most frequently found on moorlands, in areas of rough grazing, woods and copses. Currently they appear to be more common in Wales and the West Country and the west of Scotland.
Small rodents are the source of the Borrelia and when the tick larvae hatch they will feed on mice and rats and pick up the organism. As the larvae mature they will remain infected and spread quantities of the organism to anything they feed on, including dogs and man. An adult tick can lay several thousand eggs so in infected areas there is a huge possibility for the generation of ticks that carry and spread disease.
Lyme disease was first described in people in Lyme, Conneticut, USA in the 1970’s and later in the 1980’s it was identified in cats and dogs. Although not very common in the UK at the moment there have been some reports that cases in humans are on the increase.
Signs associated with Lyme disease:
Stiffness or lameness that may shift from one joint to another
Lack of appetite
Skin rash which may progress to arthritis and neurological disease
To try and confirm Lyme disease there are tests available to look for antibodies in blood samples or the organisms in joint fluid samples, but sometimes they are present in such low numbers that they are difficult to find. If a dog is showing the right clinical signs for Lyme disease and has a history of exposure to ticks then it is important to start treatment even before a diagnosis is made.
Antibiotics are usually very effective and painkillers are given to make the dog more comfortable. If the disease is confirmed then treatment may last for a few weeks to ensure all the Borrelia organisms have gone.
How to remove a tick
Historically there has been lots of advice between friends regarding tick removal. Some say apply butter to suffocate the tick while others recommend alcohol or cigarette ends. Some of these methods may work, but the two most effective ways of removing a tick are either using a proprietary licensed treatment, which will cause the tick to die and drop off, or manual removal.
To remove a tick it is important to break the seal between the mouthparts and skin surface. One way is to hold the tick with your index finger and thumb and twist the tick with a slight rocking motion. Another way is to use a specially designed hook which does all this for you in one swift twisting motion, this is generally the best method for inexperienced hands.
Either way it is important that the mouthparts come out to prevent further irritation or problems.
Prevention of disease
Although many ticks will not be carrying disease you cannot tell which ones are. It is safer to treat them all in the same way and make sure that once they have attached they come off as soon as possible. Most of the tick treatments on the market are designed to kill ticks, a few also claim to be able to repel ticks as well but are not yet 100% effective.
When a tick has attached it usually takes between 24 and 48 hours before it starts to transmit any disease. It is important therefore that the tick is killed or removed before this time. The various ‘spot-on’ formulations, collars and sprays marketed through the veterinary profession have all been proven to be effective at doing this provided they are used properly. It is very important that you follow the instructions on the packaging. A tick has such a thick body wall it takes a relatively high level of chemical to penetrate and take effect compared to fleas.
Most of the ‘spot on’ products that are advertised for tick and flea treatment must be applied on a MONTHLY basis so that it will be effective against the ticks all the time. Be careful with
respect to bathing or swimming the dog soon after treatment as you don’t want to wash the product away or contaminate the environment with the chemical.
It is very important to be diligent in our approach to ticks – we can now provide our pets with passports so that they can travel freely, without quarantine, to Europe and back. Despite measures to prevent foreign ticks from entering the UK there is always a possibility that one will slip through. There are different tick borne diseases in Europe which not yet seen in Britain, but hopefully we can learn by experience and try to limit the threats that ticks pose to our dogs.
Range of Products Available at our Surgeries
We stock and sell Effipro to all non and existing clients
This product must be used MONTHLY to treat and prevent Ticks
Daleside Veterinary Surgery
309-311 Liverpool Road
Tel: 01704 575606
Churchside Veterinary Surgery
5a Preston New Road
Tel: 01704 225105
Formby Veterinary Surgery
113 Church Road
Tel: 01704 877145
Maghull Veterinary Surgery
55 Liverpool Road South
Tel: 0151 531 7719
Out of Hours Emergency Cover
Barn Lodge Veterinary Hospital
54a Southport Road
01695 572 837