What are ticks?
Ticks rank second only to mosquitoes in infectious disease
spread to both pets and people.
Ticks are small creatures that are closely related to spiders
and can be predominantly found lurking in grassy areas, such as
fields and meadows. They are parasites and so always require a host
to feed from, but also to provide somewhere to find a mate for
breeding too. Ticks can also pick up disease from one mammalian
host and then pass it onto another (including humans), resulting in
a serious risk of disease spread.
What do ticks look like?
Varying in shape, colour and size, ticks are generally oval,
flat and small: the size of a sesame seed when unfed, but once
completely engorged with blood, they grow to the size and shape of
a coffee bean. They look for hosts to latch onto, often by climbing
to the top of a long blade of grass and waiting (a behaviour known
as 'questing') for passing mammalian traffic, i.e. a sheep, cat,
hedgehog, dog, or even you!
What effects do ticks cause?
Ticks aren't just pests that feast on your dog and cause him to
itch; they can also be carriers of some serious diseases. UK ticks
can carry a devastating condition called Lyme disease caused by
serious bacteria, which affects both muscle and nerve cells.
How can I tell if my dog has ticks?
Animals may experience intermittent lameness, fever and lethargy
while humans may show a rash, joint pain, fever, and headaches. If
incorrectly diagnosed, and even left untreated, it can result in an
extremely serious debilitating chronic illness with lifelong
While the number of human cases of Lyme disease is rising,
unfortunately it's a difficult disease to diagnose in dogs, with
occasional signs of sudden arthritis, so prevention against ticks
is of vital importance.
When are ticks active?
Ticks are commonly more active in open (as well as woodland and
urban) areas in spring and autumn. But don't be fooled into
thinking they're just a warm weather problem; they can, in fact, be
found in your dog's environment throughout the year.
These days, it's not just on local walks that you need to be
aware of the presence of ticks. Foreign ticks, such as the exotic
brown dog (or kennel) tick have been found on recently travelled
dogs in the UK. With a 75% increase in pet movement
into the UK, it's now more important than ever to protect your pet
against the risk of ticks.
How can I prevent my dog from getting ticks?
There are many safe products on the market to prevent ticks:
from spot-ons and sprays, to special collars impregnated with
substances that infiltrate into the fatty layer in your dog's skin,
killing ticks when they attempt to feed and get their first
mouthful of anti-parasitically treated blood.
Humans out and about enjoying countryside walks should always
tuck trousers into socks to help prevent ticks directly latching
onto skin, and on returning home, especially from areas such as
parks and woodlands, check all over yours and your pet's body for
signs of any visitors.
What do I do if I find a tick on my dog?
Ticks can be dangerous for any age of dog and indeed any breed
(although long-haired breeds are probably more susceptible to
picking them up) so it's important to know what to do if you spot
Importantly, please don't panic and resist the urge to just pull
it straight off. This would be extremely painful for your dog so
ticks always need to be removed slowly and carefully, otherwise
embedded mouth parts can be left behind. Or if ticks are 'stressed'
- poked and prodded, burnt with a flame, or, as is commonly done,
covered in Vaseline to suffocate them - ticks may regurgitate their
bloody meal back into their host along with any disease they're
carrying, thereby increasing the chances of disease
If found on your dog, ticks must be removed, however if done
incorrectly, mouth parts left inside your dog could result in a
local tissue reaction, inflammation and infection often requiring
antibiotics, or even surgical removal. Therefore you may wish
to speak to your vet about techniques on how to remove them
To find out more about ticks, how to identify them, prevent or
remove them, please contact your vet as a matter of importance for
your dog's welfare and public health too.
10 tips for avoiding ticks for you and your pet
- Out walking, wear suitable clothing: wearing shorts in tick
habitat is an invitation to be bitten!
- Insect repellents can be sprayed on to clothing, but always
follow the manufacturers guidelines.
- Carry a tick removal tool and antiseptic wipes.
- Walk in the centre of paths and avoid over-hanging vegetation
at the edge of paths where ticks may be waiting.
- Have a 'tick buddy' to help you check your body and be your
dog's 'tick buddy'.
- Deter ticks from gardens: keep leaf litter to a minimum, grass
short, vegetation cut back, and seating and play equipment away
from borders, trees and bird feeders.
- Keep pets tick free using tick-control products.
- Treat pet accessories with repellents too.
- Groom pets thoroughly: make sure you brush against, as well as
with, the hair growth to see any embedded ticks. Check inside the
ears, around the eyes, on the chin and around the muzzle, as well
as between pads and toes.
- Don't bring ticks home: take off outer clothes before going
indoors. Tests have demonstrated that ticks can survive a full
cycle in the washing machine and short periods in a dryer.
Who can I contact for further advice?
The Kennel Club is not a veterinary organisation and is unable
to provide general or case specific veterinary advice. If you
have any questions regarding any of the issues discussed in this
article then please contact your local veterinary practice for
This article was written by Marc Abraham and was originally
published in the Crufts Magazine - www.thecruftsmagazine.com.
Marc Abraham is a vet based in Brighton. He regularly
appears on UK television. For more information about Marc