Ticks and the Threat they Carry

Ticks and the Threat they Carry
May 18, 2018 kernow

With the weather warmer, sadly, that means we’re seeing the re-emergence of a nasty parasite – the tick. In this blog, we’re going to look at these horrible little creatures, how dangerous they can be, and how you can protect your pets from them!

What are ticks?

Ticks are small eight-legged creatures, related to spiders. They make their living by sucking blood from larger animals, including cats, dogs – and even people. When feeding, they gradually enlarge as they gorge on blood, and during this time they’re firmly attached to the skin and often look like lumps or warts.

Why do they suck blood?

It’s all they eat – unlike their arachnid cousins! However, they are still active hunters, climbing to the top of tall grass to hunt for prey. This behaviour is called questing, and they “sniff out” animals using chemical sensors (analogous to our noses) located on their front legs. Most ticks have a 4 stage life-cycle – eggs are laid by females, which hatch into larvae (just like adults, but with only 6 legs). The larva feeds on a passing animal, and then drops off, to transform into an nymph hidden in the undergrowth. The nymph repeats the process, converting into an adult. After feeding for the third time, the adult males crawl over the host animal, until they find a female (who will still be feeding, getting bigger and bigger). They then mate, and the female lays her eggs, which drop off to continue the species.

When are they around?

In theory, the life cycle takes about 3 years to complete, but in warm, wet climates – like here in Cornwall! – it can be faster. In general, ticks are most active in the spring and summer; however, mild winters and wet summers can allow some ticks to be out and about all year round.

What dangers do they pose?

There are three significant risks from ticks.

Blood loss – while it is unusual for ticks to suck enough blood to cause problems to an adult animal, small pets, puppies and kittens can be severely affected if they have a very heavy tick burden.

Bite site infection – if the tick gets injured or damaged, the body can break off from the mouthparts on the head. This typically happens when people try to pull them off, rather than twist them. If this happens, the mouthparts stay within the skin, causing local inflammation and infection. In severe cases, this can cause abscesses to form.

Tick-borne infections – this is the really big issue. There are a number of infections that ticks carry (including Anaplasma and Ehrlichia); however, the ones we are most concerned about are:

  • Lyme Disease. Caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, this infection causes a skin rash (although not in every case), lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, pain in the joints, and potentially kidney or other internal organ damage.
  • Babesiosis. Fortunately, the Babesia canis parasites (that cause severe anaemia in dogs) are not currently in the South West, although sadly they are now well established in the Eastern UK and it is likely that they will reach us eventually.

Are they dangerous to people?

Yes – the same risks apply to people, especially Lyme Disease.

How do I protect my pet?

During the “tick season” (which is, remember, weather dependent!), we strongly recommend that dogs and cats are regularly treated with an anti-tick product. For dogs, there are a wide range of spot-ons and collars that repel ticks, as well as products (including tablets) that kill them before they have a chance to infect the dog.

In cats, there aren’t many safe repellent products (NEVER use dog products on cats – some contain permethrin with isn’t just lethal to ticks, it kills cats too). However, there are treatments available, so talk to us for advice.

None of the products currently available will stop ticks getting onto your pet.  What is really important is how quickly the product works as your aim should be to kill the tick before it settles in to feeding.  So the Kernow Vet surgeries stock tablets here that are some of the fastest acting products against ticks. It is also important to kill all the species of tick for the life of the product.  So, we offer an oral treatment that does exactly that.

If you’re concerned, come in and talk to one of our vets for advice about how protect your pet! Our vets and nurses would also be willing to help remove ticks if necessary. If you’re concerned your pet may have a tick-borne disease, call us for advice; if you think you might have one, seek medical advice immediately.