Published on October 2nd, 2017 | by Debbie Martin0
Of all the threats the modern domestic dog is faced with, among the more common are ectoparasites – small creatures which live on the outside of the host animal (as opposed to endoparasites, which live on the inside). According to the Big Tick Project, an annual study into tick habits launched last Spring by Bristol University, ticks infest around a third of all dogs – and the risk is higher in some parts of the country. While we might think of ticks as present only in the countryside, the study has demonstrated that there are substantial populations in urban centres, too.
What sorts of tick are there?
Of the ticks which infest domestic dogs, by far the most common is Ixodes Rincinus. This little creature is also known as the sheep tick, or castor bean tick, and is responsible for almost 90% of infestations. While ubiquitous, this sort of tick isn’t the only parasite on the market. Dog’s might be infested with Dermacentor Reticulatus (the meadow tick); Ixodes Hexagonus (the hedgehog tick); and Ixodes Canisuga (the dog tick).
Why are tick numbers increasing?
Tick numbers are on the rise – and this is so for a few different reasons – all of which are linked to more favourable conditions for the tick both in and out of the home. Firstly, global temperatures are on the rise – which means that winters are milder, and summers are wetter. This provides the tick with the conditions it needs to remain active for longer.
This is especially so on the inside of our homes, where central heating is used to keep things warm all year round. Despite this, many pet owners feel as though they can skip anti-tick controls during the winter, as they perceive the threat to be lesser. Paradoxically, this can cause some dogs to be under greater risk during winter than during summer! Tick and flea treatments are available in a number of forms – with the most popular being topical drops that use your pet’s natural oils to spread across the skin. Be sure that you choose one that’s especially designed for the animal you’re treating.
Despite the risks that rising tick numbers pose to our dogs (and to use), only a minority of dog owners are aware them. And still fewer are concerned enough to take action. It’s complacency, and not just climate change, that’s giving the tick the opportunity it needs to spread.
What about travelling ticks?
Another threat that’s growing is that caused by dogs moving across national borders. Of the seven-thousand-odd dogs involved in the study, fifty-six had travelled abroad. But of these fifty-six, forty-three were infested with ticks. Mostly, these infestations were caused by the common Ixodes Rincinus tick. But there’s always a danger of more exotic species finding their way onto the animal, and causing exotic diseases. When these parasites are brought back into the UK, the consequences can be extremely serious.
For example, there’s the R. Sanguineus tick, which is capable of surviving in the nooks and crannies of your home, and can carry out its full life cycle in a matter of months without the need to spread from one host to another.
If you’re travelling to another country with your dog, then it’s essential that you take extra precautionary measures to ensure it’s protected against infestation. Let’s examine some of them.
How can I remove ticks from my dog?
When a tick is feeding on a host, it buries its teeth into the skin and begins to suck blood. It can often swell to many times its usual size when it’s feeding, in order to accommodate all of that extra blood. This makes them easier to spot and remove.
You might do this with your fingers – but this is risky, because of the risk of crushing the tick, leaving remnants still lodged beneath the dog’s skin. This poses a risk of infection and other unpleasant complications. Ticks can carry infectious bacteria themselves, so handling them directly is distinctly unhygienic.
Instead, use a special tick-removing hook. This device can be purchased online – they’re designed to slip underneath the tick so that you can lift it away from the dog’s body without crushing it into tiny pieces.
Be sure when removing the tick that you haven’t tangled any of the dog’s hair into the hook. Be sure also that you’re wearing latex gloves – these will ensure that you’re properly protected while you’re carrying out the removal.
If you’re especially concerned that your dog is at risk from ticks, then the best approach is to speak with your vet. They’ll be able to provide advice about the treatments that are best for your dog, and talk you through how to check for, and remove, ticks.
What about me?
Of course, ticks pose a particular risk to dogs. But they’re also capable of attaching themselves to, and biting, humans. In doing so, they can pass on many of the same nasty diseases: most notably Lyme Disease.
If you should notice that a tick has attached itself to you, then be sure to remove it immediately – preferably using the tick removal tool we’ve discussed, or a pair of fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick gently, as close to the skin as possible, and pull it upwards slowly.
Once the tick has been removed, you’ll want to treat the area of the bite with antiseptic. Wash it thoroughly, rub antiseptic cream on it, and then watch it to see if further changes occur. In most cases, you’ll find that the bite goes away. If you begin to feel unwell, then book a visit to your local GP. Tell them you’ve been bitten by a tick, and they’ll advise you accordingly.