What are ticks?

Ticks are small arachnids, like spiders. They have no wings and eight legs, but otherwise have a variable appearance as there are many different species. They get larger as they mature, but most ticks are about 3-5mm long when not engorged with blood.

Why are ticks dangerous?

Ticks are dangerous because they are obligate blood feeders. They need to live on another warm-blooded body in order to survive – because they feed exclusively on blood. Each stage of their life cycle requires a feed, they then drop off the host, back into the environment to mature and develop before they move onto their next host. Once they reach adulthood, they mate, and then the females lay their eggs back into the environment, ready for the next generation.

Most ticks take about 12 months to develop between stages; however, in warmer, wetter climates like ours, they can sometimes complete a transformation in as little as 6 months (between spring and autumn, for example).

Who are ticks dangerous to?

Ticks are dangerous to both you, your children and your pets, as you are all able to be a walking meal for ticks. The parasites climb onto a host in order to feed rather than jumping or flying.

The reason we worry about them is that ticks can carry diseases. These diseases could be bacterial, viral or protozoan. One tick may carry multiple different diseases and sometimes diseases which are not common in this country. The sooner you remove the tick, the less likely disease spread is.

Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-borne diseases transmitted to dogs and to humans. In dogs, the symptoms include a skin rash (although not in every case), a fever, and often limping; these dogs require veterinary attention. In humans, a bullseye-shaped rash is a warning sign, and if you develop this then you should suspect Lyme disease and contact your medical doctor as soon as possible.

While a tick will not usually leave a dog or a cat to bite a human, they might bite a dog as a juvenile, then bite a human once they have developed into adulthood (or vice versa). As a result, controlling the tick population in dogs (and, to a lesser extent, cats) will help minimise the risk to us.

Where am I most likely to find ticks?

You or your pets could be exposed to ticks whenever you are outdoors. They are more likely to be found in moist areas such as long grass, in moorlands, woodlands or grassland. They are most commonly seen between spring and autumn but can be found all year round, especially in milder weather. With climate change, we may start to see increasing numbers of ticks that remain active even in the winter.

What are the symptoms of a tick infestation?

If your pet has been bitten by a tick, you will usually still be able to see it, or a part of it, within the skin. The adult female ticks drink huge amounts of blood and swell up like a balloon – filling up with “fuel” for their egg-laying. The males drink less and are more active, crawling over the host to find a female to mate with.

In many cases, the only sign is a “lump” that you feel when grooming or stroking your pet. Ticks may look like warts or skin tags, but if you look closely, you will usually see their little tiny legs, right next to the head which is embedded in the skin. If the body is broken off, but the head remains attached, it can become infected and cause an abscess; it also increases the risk of disease transmission as ticks often vomit back into the bloodstream if stressed or injured.

What can I do to prevent tick infestations?

You are less likely to get ticks if you mainly walk on pathways rather than through the wilderness. You should avoid sitting or laying in long grass or letting your pets run through the long grassy areas if at all possible.

The most important step is to use tick repellent medications, to prevent ticks from attaching to your pet. There are a wide variety available, so please talk to us about the options.

Other groups of medications are available that will kill ticks very rapidly. It takes a tick about 48 hours to secure itself into the host and start “high-speed feeding”. The initial “sips” of blood they take are very unlikely to transmit disease; however, once they start “gulping”, they, start to backwash into the bloodstream. This is when diseases are most likely to be spread. So, any medicine that will kill the tick within 24-48 hours will minimise the risk of disease transmission.

You should carry out tick checks on both you and your pets after you have been outside especially during the peak season to avoid an accumulation occurring.

How do I get rid of a tick?

The best way to get rid of a tick is to use a special tick remover to twist it out. Do not try to pull the tick out directly, or you will pull the body off and leave the head behind. You can also use tweezers to pull it out, by grabbing the body and twisting the tick out of the skin. You need to ensure the whole tick is removed. If you feel unsure about how to do this, we are always here to help. If you notice any health problems after a tick bite on your pet, contact us for advice! If you think you might have contracted anything from one, talk to your doctor immediately.