Ticks 101 and how to treat them

Peaches and Pebbles, two lovely cats with a VetBox subscription

A crash course for pet owners all about ticks

Just like their flea counterparts, ticks are a parasite that are not only excellent at making us all cringe, but also at carrying and spreading diseases. These diseases are not only able to infect your pet, they can also infect us! Ticks are commonly referred to as vectors. Vectors are creatures that are required for the life cycle and spread of an infectious disease. In this post we go into the details and tips that pet owners should know about ticks and their presence in the UK.

The different kinds of ticks

Ticks come in many shapes and sizes, and there are multiple species known to bite in order to transfer infectious diseases. There are four stages of the tick life cycle: egg, larvae, nymph and adult. People are typically familiar with enlarged adult ticks, meaning the ones that have latched onto their pet (or themselves) and taken a ‘blood meal’. You may also see adults that have yet to take a blood meal, otherwise know as a nymph tick (immature adult). Ticks do not typically “jump” like we see fleas do, rather they hover on grass or brush and wait for you or your pet to pass by so they can latch on. They don’t always attach immediately, which is helpful as it gives  us more time to be able to remove them prior to biting. Areas of your pet commonly affected are the face, ears, armpits (axilla), groin (inguinal), and in between the toes (interdigital space). These spots have thinner skin and less hair, meaning easier access and attachment for the tick. That being said, you can still find a tick anywhere. 

Ticks can cause Lyme disease

Once a tick has attached itself to you or your pet, it can take variable amounts of time to spread infectious diseases depending on the disease type. One of the most common tick borne diseases that pet owners and the public are familiar with is Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and spread by the Ixodes tick. This can cause potentially severe clinical signs in both pets and humans including fever, joint pain and swelling, lymph node swelling, and lethargy. Lyme disease can be managed/treated, however does have potential for chronic problems. 

Borrelia isn’t the only offender in this category, here are a few other tick borne diseases that are present and/or have the potential to emerge in the UK:

  • Babesia spp. – Infects red blood cells and can cause anemia, spread by the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)
  • Ehrlichia spp. – Can cause low blood cell counts and kidney problems, spread by the brown dog tick 
  • Anaplasma spp. – Similar to Ehrlichia
  • Rickettsial spp. – The agent causing Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in humans/pets
  • Acanthocheilonema (dipetalonema) spp.
  • Flavivirus 
  • Francisella spp. – The agent known to cause tularemia
  • Coxiella spp. – The agent responsible for Q fever
  • Hepatozoon and Cytauxzoon spp.

Essential tick prevention treatments

Tick borne diseases have the potential to elicit serious consequences for both pets and their humans. Because of this, vets strongly encourage tick prevention in animals that spend time outdoors. Ticks love areas with high grass, brush, heavily wooded areas, bushes, etc. as this allows for easy access to attach to passersby. Animals that spend significant amounts of time on walking paths, hiking, and in areas like those mentioned above are at higher risk. Indoor only cats and dogs that spend most of their time inside are at lower risk. Ticks prefer warmer more moderate weather like fleas, so spring and summer are times of year that pets are at higher risk. Areas that experience a consistent freeze in the winter months do typically get a break from tick activity, but those that experience moderate weather consistently like the UK should mean  monthly tick prevention year round.

Top tips to keep you and your pet free of ticks: 

  • Use monthly tick prevention, such as the one VetBox provides
  • If in any doubt, speak with a vet to determine your risk level, and what preventatives are best for your pet VetBox subscribers get free access to veterinary support
  • Keep tabs on tick distribution in your area. Maps are available through the ESCCAP website as well as here
  • Check yourself and your pets when you come back from activity in at-risk outdoor areas 
  • If you find a tick on your pet, ask your vet about removal and if testing is needed for infectious diseases

Ready to tick ticks off your list? VetBox subscriptions include monthly tick treatments as standard. Get started now.

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM – MRCVS