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How to protect your pet from ticks

Ticks are small biting insects with powerful jaws and a big round body. Generally, ticks wait on grass and plants ready to bite.

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Ticks are small biting insects with powerful jaws and a big round body compared to their head. The most common tick is the UK is the castor bean tick and it does look like a bean. Initially they are small and either brown or grey but they can become over a centimeter long if they take a full meal.

Generally, ticks wait on grass and plants ready to bite your cat or dog as they go past. They attach themselves to our pets in order to feed, causing irritation and discomfort. They have highly developed mouthparts which allow them to pierce a hole through the skin and feed on blood.

As usual prevention is better than cure and your vet will have a range of tick preventatives to suit your pet. These come in the form of sprays, spot-on treatments, collars and tablets.

Detecting ticks

Check your pets’s skin on its head first (around the mouth and ears, behind ears and on its neck), then work your way down its forelegs and the rest of its body, searching for any lumps on the skin surface.

If you find a lump: 

  • Part the hair and look at it more closely (with the help of a magnifying glass, if necessary) 
  • The place where the tick attaches may or may not be painful and there may be skin swelling - it is distinguished from other skin swellings and growths because close scrutiny can reveal the tick’s legs at the level of the skin.

Protection from ticks and tick borne diseases

To reduce the risk associated with ticks on dogs, veterinary surgeons have innovative and convenient treatments that are only available on prescription. 

The options available to protect dogs against ticks include spot-ons, sprays, collars and oral chewable formulations. 

For more advice on how to remove a tick correctly and how to protect from ticks, please contact your local Vets4Pets.

What to do if you find a tick

When attempting to remove a tick avoid handling the parasite directly. Wear gloves and dispose of ticks hygienically so they cannot re-attach themselves or lay eggs.

If you find a tick on your pet’s skin:

  • The aim is to remove the whole tick, including its mouthparts without squeezing the tick's body 
  • You should use a special tool called a tick hook - these have a hook or scoop with a narrow slot that traps the tick's mouthparts 
  • Slide the hook under the tick at skin level so as to grip the head of the tick, ensure that the hook is not entangled 
  • Scoop out the tick – rotating the hook around the tick's head may help dislodge the mouthparts before removal 
  • Flush the tick down the lavatory (or sink - with hot water) 

Do not attempt to burn, cut or pull the tick off with your fingers.

Do not try to remove it with tweezers as it’s easy to leave the tick’s head behind.

Do not try any of the old wives tales (burning, Vaseline, whisky) that you may hear of. 

It’s really important that the tick is removed correctly; if you disturb the feeding, it is possible that the tick will inject its gut contents in to your pet, further increasing the risk of disease transmission. 

If in doubt, take your pet to the vet.

What are the risks?

There are some risks associated with ticks. For example, some pets have allergic reactions to ticks and a lot of tick bites can cause anaemia. There is also a risk that, while a tick is feeding, it 
could be injecting tick borne disease, like Babesia canis, into your pet.

However, the main risk from the tick bites in the UK is Lyme disease, so it's important to remove a tick as soon as you identify it to minimize the risk of disease transmission.

Lyme Disease is caused by a bite from an infected tick. The clinical signs include lameness, lethargy and fever. If left untreated it can lead to more serious conditions such as kidney disease and heart failure. 

Many cases of tick infestation go unnoticed by owners as they are only detected by a thorough examination.

Ticks can also attach themselves to humans and transmit tick-borne diseases.