Ticks

Printer-friendly versionTicks are acarid (related to spiders and mites) parasites which spend most of their time outside in long grass and small bushes but need to grab hold of a passing mammal at least once or twice a year to feed for 3 – 12 days. They mainly live on sheep, deer, hedgehogs or sometime foxes, but will feed on cats and dogs or even humans if they get the opportunity. Ticks tend to appear seasonally – mainly in late Spring and early Summer, and again in the Autumn, if the weather is mild. They are quite resistant to cold and moisture, although strong sunshine and drying out can kill them.

They have 3 stages that their life cycle goes through. This can take between 2 months and 3 years depending on availability of food and climatic conditions.

How ticks hurt our pets

Hedgehog ticks can often be picked up in the garden – especially on cats hunting for mice in the long grass. Dogs often get them from sheep fields or open ground (especially moorland) where deer and foxes live.

The main problem ticks cause, tends to be irritation where they attach and feed. This can vary from a little bit of redness to the formation of a ‘granuloma’ – a benign swelling due to a large inflammatory reaction in the skin. Granulomas are more likely to form if a tick is pulled off leaving its mouth parts embedded in the skin. They will normally settle with application of an antibiotic and steroid cream, although occasionally surgery may be required.

Some animals can become ‘hyper-sensitized’ to ticks, getting an allergic reaction when bitten, resulting in a lot of swelling and itchiness.

Ticks can also transmit diseases between animals, include viral, bacterial and protozoal infections. Fortunately it is not a common problem in the UK, but it does happen more frequently on the Continent and in the USA.

Treatment

If your pet gets a tick, you will notice a smooth grey-brown swelling suddenly appearing – often on its ears, face or feet. They start off only 1mm across, but enlarge to up to 15mm as they feed on your pet’s blood! Ticks are often confused with warts.

Ticks are generally best removed to prevent them causing a reaction or introducing infection. Most people have heard of at least one way to kill a tick, normally involving Vaseline or some form of alcohol! Sometimes they work, but the most reliable method is to spray the tick with Frontline Spray (available from veterinary surgeons). If the tick is around the head you can use a cotton bud soaked in Frontline to dab on and around the tick, especially where its head is embedded in your pet’s skin. After Frontline application, the tick will die within a few hours although it may stay embedded for a day or two. If you don’t have any Frontline, or the tick is causing irritation, it is probably best to bring your pet to the surgery and have it removed professionally. This will ensure that the mouth parts are not left behind, and treatment of any associated infection can be given.

Prevention

Outside:

  • Keeping the grass short and dealing with any overgrown or moist areas in your garden will help reduce the suitable places for ticks to live;
  • Avoiding taking dogs through sheep fields and onto moorland at the peak times of May, June and September will reduce the chance of picking up ticks.

Your pet:

  • Frontline Spray or Spot-on applied every 14 days through the tick season will kill any ticks that get onto your pet, within 24 hours. The tick will fall off soon afterwards. This is the only licensed treatment available in this country, and animals returning from abroad as part of the Pet Passport Scheme are required to be ‘Frontlined’.