Mon 07 Aug 2017 by Judy
Dog owners tend to be physically active and healthy people, but care should be taken while out on dog walks to avoid the risk of catching Lyme disease from ticks.
What are ticks?
Ticks are small, dark blood-sucking anthropods that are related to mites and spiders. There are many types of ticks here in the UK, which favour the different types of blood found on their preferred hosts. Sheep ticks (Ixodes ricinus) are most likely tick to bite humans, and are not only found on sheep, but may be found on a wide range of mammals and even birds. Other common ticks are the badger and fox tick (Ixodes canisuga) and the hedgehog tick (Ixodes hexagonus).
What do ticks look like?
Image courtesy of Lyme Disease Action
Identifying ticks is not always an easy task, as there are in fact 4 stages of a tick’s life-cycle:
The larva is normally seen as a small speck of dirt and has 6 legs. Nymphs are slightly bigger to the naked eye, and are normally the size of a pinhead. Nymphs have 8 legs, and are mostly likely to bite. Adult ticks are larger, with 8 legs and look similar to a spider. The complete life-cycle of a tick is around 2 years.
Where are ticks found?
Ticks can be found all around us, but tend to be more prolific in areas abundant with wildlife. Common places to find ticks include:
- Urban gardens
- Woodland – both deciduous and coniferous
What are the health risks from tick bites?
Tick bites are not normally painful, but a bite from an infected tick may pass on a disease known as Lyme disease. However, not every tick is infected with Lyme disease. Ticks bites can also pass on other less known diseases such as Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis.
How do ticks attach themselves to pets and humans?
Image courtesy of Lyme Disease Action
Ticks cannot fly or jump. Instead, they will climb onto vegetation and wait for a passing animal or human to attach to, by using their hooked front legs. This process is known as questing. Once the tick has climbed onto a human or animal it will find a suitable spot of skin before biting and attaching itself. The tick may not be recognisable as a tick until it has started to feed on its host’s blood. The tick may simply look like a small freckle or spot at this stage. As the tick begins to feed on blood, the body starts to increase in size, in some cases reaching the size of a small pea, and also become lighter in colour. Adult female ticks are larger than adult male ticks. A tick will feed for around 5-7 days if left undisturbed before letting go and falling off. The longer a tick is attached to a host, the higher the risk of infection. However, infection is possible at any stage, so ticks should be removed immediately.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose, but symptoms may include:
- Skin rash
- Joint pain
- Stiff neck
- Tingling skin, itching and numbness
Treating Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is crucial as left untreated the disease can affect the eyes, joints, brain and heart.
Protecting yourself against tick bites
- Stick to paths and wear protective clothing on the dog walk
- Avoid walking through deep vegetation on walks, and stick to paths.
- Check regularly for signs of ticks on clothing and brush off any ticks before they bite.
- Wear protective clothing, such as walking boots and socks when out walking.
- Use an insect repellent containing DEET and picaridine which are known to be effective against ticks.
- Avoid walking in sandals, and bare legs in the countryside.
- Check pets regularly for signs of ticks.
- Wear sturdy shoes and tuck trousers into your socks
How to remove ticks
Ticks should be removed as quickly as possible, and it’s crucial that all parts of the tick are removed. Pulling an attached tick off is likely to result in the legs or other body parts remaining in the bite. We strongly recommend using a tick removal tool, available from vets and pet shops. Ensure you follow the instructions carefully for safe removal, which involves using a twisting action to release the tick without squashing the body. Clean the affected area after removal with antiseptic. Wash hands thoroughly after removal. Place the tick in a container, in the event your doctor requires evidence of the bite.
Discovering a tick on your body can be distressing, and it can be very tempting to pull the tick off by crushing it or pulling it off. This may cause the tick to regurgitate the contents of its stomach into the wound. It is important not to use Vaseline, petrol, nail varnish or other similar chemicals to smother the tick as again the tick may regurgitate its stomach or release infected saliva into the wound.
Check your dog for ticks
Ticks between a dog's foot are common. It's a good idea to check your dog for signs of ticks after walks in tick infested areas. Ticks can be found on any area of your dog's body, including the face, especially if your dog loves to explore woodland and vegetation. Ticks can often also be found tucked out of sight between the pads of your dog's feet.
The Lyme Disease Action website is packed with information and advice on ticks and Lyme Disease. The charity sells a wide range of tick removers and spray repellents in their online shop. Please help support this good cause, to help keep us and our pets safe from ticks and Lyme Disease.