For pet owners, the health of your companions is paramount. But many of us simply aren’t aware of health issues that are subtler in how they manifest. In fact, one study found that almost a third of dogs given a random health check in the UK were found to be carrying a tick.
WHAT IS A TICK?
A tick is a very small parasite that often lives in grassland or woodland. As unsettling as this may sound, a tick will latch onto a host – whether that’s a dog, cat, sheep or human – to feed on their blood. Before feeding, ticks are incredibly small, but can grow to the size of a pea when full.
Ticks come in a wide range of sizes and colours, as there are hundreds of different varieties that can be found across the country throughout the year. However, they’re most commonly found in spring and summer when temperatures start to rise.
HOW DO I CHECK MY PET FOR TICKS?
When full, ticks swell up and often look like small warts or bumps in your pet’s skin. If you look closely, you may also be able to see the tick’s legs, as only it’s head beds into the skin.
Ticks will generally target the warmest area of a pet’s body, which is most commonly the head or neck. However, ticks can also be found under your companion’s collar, between their toes, or in their ears and groin.
After a walk with your dog in a rural or grassy area, or when your cat returns from a day out scavenging, it’s wise to check their entire body for ticks. This way, you can limit any damage by intervening immediately.
CAN TICKS HURT MY PETS?
The reassuring news is that most pets won’t be adversely affected by ticks and not show any symptoms at all. Contrary to common belief, ticks don’t tend to cause itching in your dog or cat, so it’s likely that your companion won’t alert you to a tick bite themselves.
However, some ticks do carry diseases that they’ve picked up from other animals, so you need to keep a close eye on your pet if they’ve recently had a tick bite.
Lyme disease is one of the most common diseases spread through tick bites for dogs, though is relatively uncommon in cats. Essentially, it’s a serious bacterial infection that affects mammals and is primarily caused by deer ticks.
Some of the symptoms of Lyme disease in pets include:
- A fever
- Loss of appetite
- Reduced energy
- Stiffness and discomfort
- Joint swelling
This condition is caused by toxins produced in the salivary gland of some female ticks, which is released into the bloodstream of pets when they’re bitten. If your pet is suffering with their rear limbs following a tick bite, and seems weak or unsteady, this could be a sign of tick paralysis. In the worst-case scenario, tick paralysis can result in total paralysis for your dog.
If you do notice any of the above symptoms in your pet, seek veterinary attention immediately.
HOW TO GET RID OF TICKS
If you notice that your cat or dog has a tick, please do not to pull it out with your fingers, or squeeze the tick’s body at all. This is because blood can be pushed back into your pet’s body, increasing their risk of disease.
When a tick is pulled out of its host’s body, its body may break on your companion’s skin. This can cause inflammation or infection if not properly carried out.
There are a number of tick removal tools available, which can be picked up at a pet shop or the local vet. These help you to twist the tick, helping you to avoid squeezing the body or leaving part of it behind. If you’re not confident in removing a tick yourself, then it’s always wise to ask your vet to do so and show you how.
HOW TO PREVENT TICKS
There are a few different ways to prevent your companions from picking up ticks. At your next routine vet appointment, it’s worth asking about the risk and variety of ticks living in your area. In the meantime, be mindful of the following:
- If you live in a high-risk area, try to walk your dog on paths or other safe areas, avoiding woodland and long grass where possible.
- Check your dog after every walk, and your cat when they return from exploring the outdoors.
- Keep your garden tidy and free of tick habitat – cut the grass regularly and rake up fallen leaves.
- There are a few different tick treatments available, including spot-ons, tablets and collars. If you’re unsure about what treatment is best for your pet, ask your vet.
It’s lovely to watch our companions enjoying the great outdoors, whether it’s on walkies or when they’re slinking up trees. As loving pet owners, we naturally don’t want pesky pests jeopardising the fun, exercise and stimulation our companions feel from being outside. Therefore, it’s important to check your dog or cat over once in a while, take the necessary precautions where possible and never hesitate to speak to a vet. Don’t let a tick take control.
1. University of Bristol. Preventing tick-borne disease through awareness: