BSAVA provides Q&A advice to help prevent tick bites

The BSAVA has put together a Q&A for pet owners during tick bite prevention week 22 – 28 March 2020. The information, which has been written for vets to pass on to their clients easily, explains what ticks are, how to spot them and safely remove them and how to prevent associated diseases. In addition the BSAVA has created a collection of resources on ticks and tick-borne diseases for veterinary professionals, freely available in the BSAVA Library until the end of April. 

What are ticks?

Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of the animal that they attach to. Adult ticks have a head, body and four pairs of legs. Ticks can be quite small when they first attach to an animal, but become engorged as they feed – they are about the size of a pea when full! There are a number of different species of tick, but not all are found in the UK.

How would my pet get a tick? 

Ticks are commonly found in areas such as pasture and woodland, though they can also be found in parks and urban areas. Hungry ticks will wait on grass or leaves in the environment before attaching themselves to a passing animal using their mouthparts.

Can ticks spread disease?

Yes, ticks spread disease in their saliva when they feed on an animal’s blood. Ticks are capable of spreading a number of diseases to both animals and humans, though the diseases spread by ticks differ depending on the region of the world in which they are found.

In the UK, ticks are known to spread Lyme disease. Both dogs and humans are known to be affected by Lyme disease, but it is rarely diagnosed in cats.

Babesiosis is a disease transmitted to dogs by ticks commonly found in Europe. Babesiosis causes a sudden breakdown of the red blood cells leading to anaemia. In the UK, babesiosis is seen in dogs returning from travel to Europe but worryingly, in recent years, there have been reports of babesiosis in UK dogs that have no history of travel to Europe.

What do I do if my pet gets a tick?

To prevent the spread of disease, it is important that you remove any ticks as quickly and safely as possible. The best way to remove ticks is to use a ‘tick remover’ tool, which are sold in many veterinary practices and pet shops.

When removing ticks, take care to ensure that the whole of the tick is removed from your pet. If using a tick removing tool, make sure that you twist and never pull – this will help to prevent leaving the head of the tick in your pet. You should also make sure that you don’t squeeze the tick’s body as this may cause the tick to expel some blood, which could increase the risk of the tick transmitting disease to your pet.

Once removed, ticks can be sent to Public Health England’s (PHE) Tick Surveillance Scheme (TSS) which aims to inform the assessment of the public health impact of ticks in the UK.

How can I prevent my pet from getting a tick?

The best way to prevent your dog from becoming bitten by a tick is to avoid areas where ticks are likely to be found, such as pastures and woodland. Ticks are particularly active during the spring and autumn, although they can be active all year round.

You should ensure that you check your pets for ticks every day – for dogs, it is advised to check them after a walk. If travelling abroad with your pet, you should check them for ticks thoroughly just before returning to the UK, and again on the point of return. Some countries have ticks that we do not normally find in the UK and can spread nasty diseases such as babesiosis. The quicker you are able to remove a tick, the less chance it will have to pass disease on to your pet.

You should also consider using a tick control product on a regular basis which can be applied to your pet in spot-on, collar or tablet form. It is recommended that you discuss this with your local veterinary surgeon who will be able to advise which product would be best suited to your pet based on your location and lifestyle. Always check the label of any product that you are using carefully, and never use a treatment designed for dogs on a cat as this could be fatal to the cat. 

Can humans get bitten by ticks?

Humans can get bitten by ticks, so it is important to check yourself over when you get back from the dog walk! Further information about preventing tick bites – and diseases spread by ticks – is available on the Public Health England and NHS websites.

Taking your pet on holiday?If you are considering taking your pet travelling with you, you are advised to discuss this with your local veterinary surgeon who will be able to advise appropriate preventative measures and discuss any concerns that you may have. You may wish to consider whether it is in the best interests of your pet to travel, and you might want to consider alternative arrangements for your pet whilst you are away. For more information, visit the BSAVA Pet Travel webpages. For information on how to become a BSAVA member visit how to become a member