Ticks can pose a serious risk to your pet. Learn more about this common parasite and find out how to protect your pet from tick-transmitted diseases.
What is a tick?
Ticks are members of the arachnid family (related to spiders and scorpions) that feed off the blood of other animals. They can vary in length from 1mm to 1cm and have an egg-shaped body that becomes larger and darker as it fills with blood. Before feeding, they’re about the size of a sesame seed; after feeding they can grow as big as a coffee bean.
These parasites are most commonly found in wooded, grassy and heathland areas between spring and autumn, although they remain active throughout the year. Ticks don’t fly or jump; instead, they climb or drop on to animals and attach themselves using their mouth before feeding. They will usually feed on their host for a few days before dropping off once they’ve had enough.
As well as causing irritation and discomfort, ticks are one of the biggest spreaders of serious blood-borne diseases (second only to the mosquito). In the UK these diseases include Lyme disease, which can have devastating effects.
All pets and humans can attract ticks, but dogs are more at risk due to their increased exposure and inquisitive nature on walks.
How to spot a tick
Ticks are often big enough to see and they feel like a small bump on your pet’s skin. It’s a good idea to run your hands over your pet after they’ve been outdoors to check for lumps and bumps which may be a tick. Regular grooming sessions also provide a great opportunity to do this. Ticks tend to attach around the head, neck, ears and feet so be sure to pay attention to these areas.
By the time you spot a tick, it’s usually already latched on to your pet’s skin, but you may see an unfed tick on the surface of their fur. Unfed ticks are brown with a dark brown mouth area, while fed ticks are round and grey in colour.
How to remove ticks
If you do find a tick on your pet, don’t panic. They can be removed quickly and easily, and infection can be prevented if done within 24 hours.
To remove them, you’ll need:
- a tick removal tool
- rubber gloves
- a sealable jar or container
- pet-friendly antiseptic.
Before you start, put on a pair of rubber gloves to protect yourself from any potential diseases the tick may be carrying. You may also want someone else to keep your pet calm with treats or affection while you remove the tick.
It’s important not to use tweezers as they can remove the tick’s body but leave part of the mouth, causing irritation and infection. Instead, use a specialised tick remover tool to gently twist and pull the parasite away from your pet without squeezing it. Once removed, remember to check the tick for its mouthparts, head and legs to ensure nothing’s been left behind. Your vet will be more than happy to offer advice on removing ticks safely.
Put the tick in a sealed container, such as a jar or a resealable bag filled with rubbing alcohol and dispose of it straight away. Wipe the area of your pet’s skin with a pet-safe antiseptic wipe and wash your hands and the tick remover tool with disinfectant.
Keep an eye on your pet over the next few days and check the bite area for any signs of infection or irritation. If this does occur, speak to your vet straight away.
How to prevent ticks
While it’s near impossible to prevent your pet’s exposure to ticks, effective parasite prevention will kill or repel them if they do attach to your pet’s skin.
There are various types of preventative treatment available, including spot-on formulas and tablets. Your vet will be able to advise you on the best option based on your pet’s lifestyle and environment. They’ll also be aware of any common tick-transmitted diseases in your area that may need to be considered.
Diseases transmitted by ticks
Ticks can transmit various diseases by feeding on the blood of an infected animal and subsequently passing it on to their next host.
Ticks can transmit Lyme disease to both pets and humans. This bacterial disease comprises three stages and can result in kidney damage, arthritis and cardiac issues if left untreated. While not all ticks carry this disease, it’s impossible to identify the ones that do, so it’s essential to protect your pet.
They can also transmit ehrlichiosis, a disease of the white blood cells which can cause fever, weight loss, stiffness and prolonged blood loss. Similarly, ticks can also carry babesiosis which is a potentially fatal disease of the red blood cells. While ehrlichiosis and babesiosis don’t usually occur in the UK, they’re both common in Europe, the USA and Africa so pose a risk to pets that travel to these areas.