How to treat a tick
Ticks are becoming more common across many parts of the UK, largely due to increasing deer numbers. Being bitten by one doesn't necessarily mean you or your pet will get sick, but it is important to make sure that if you find a tick on your pet that you remove it properly as quickly as possible.
What is a tick?
There are a few different types of tick and they can vary in size from 1mm to 1cm across. Egg-shaped with either a red brown or pebble grey coloured body, they have eight legs which means they look a little bit spider-like too. When a tick sucks on your pets blood, their bodies become larger as they fill up and this makes them easier to spot. Otherwise they are flatter like the one in our photo.
Ticks are commonly found in woodland, grassland and heathland areas, but can also be found in your garden if you live in an area with lots of wildlife. You are most likely to encounter across them in areas where there are lots of sheep or deer between spring and autumn, but they are active throughout the year.
Tick Photo by Erik Karits on Unsplash
Finding a tick
If your pet has a tick you will most likely notice it as a small bump in their fur when you stroke them. Finding a tick for the first time can be a little alarming but it is important to stay calm and deal with it effectively. If you try to just pull it off then its jaws or head may get left behind in your pet and cause an infection.
A ticks favourite places to attach to your pet are around their head, neck, ears and feet but they may latch on anywhere that they can slurp on some blood. They don’t fly or jump, they climb or drop onto your pet as they brush past them – for example if they run through tall grass or bracken or if they lie down somewhere during your walk.
Collie Photo by Doloresz Dombi on Unsplash
As with most things, prevention is better than cure and most spot-on flea treatments, collars and tablets will protect your pet from ticks too. The most effective medicines are ones that you get from your vet with a prescription, rather than over-the-counter ones. If you’re not sure if your flea treatment prevents ticks, ask your pet for advice. Some dog flea treatments can be harmful to cats so always read the label carefully if you have several pets that live close together.
Grey cat Photo by Kaiwen Sun on Unsplash
Removing a tick
The best way to remove a tick from your pet (or yourself) is by twisting it off with a special tick removal tool. You can buy these at your chemist, vet or pet shop, or online. These are usually made of plastic and have a little groove underneath which slides underneath the tick, which you then twist off, getting it to release its grip on your pet without leaving anything behind. If you walk regularly in long grass then it’s a good idea to buy one of these tools before you need it so that you have it close to hand if it is ever needed.
Removing a tick doesn’t hurt and your pet shouldn’t be able to feel it being removed, but if they are fidgeting, get someone to help you hold them if possible and make a fuss of them to make it a positive experience.
You have to be careful not squeeze the tick or leave any of it behind, as this could cause it to squirt blood back into your pet and increase the chances of infection. If you’re worried about removing the tick then ask your vet for advice.
- Gently part your pet’s fur so you can get a clear view of the tick and reduce your chances of twisting their fur around as you use the tool.
- Carefully slide the tick removal tool under the tick. Sometimes you don’t get it first time so stay calm and keep trying until it is locked in place.
- Once you feel that the tool is hooked under the tick, turn it round several times until you feel the tick become loose.
- Take a look at your pets skin to make sure that the tick is completely removed. Sometimes your pet will bleed a little or get a scab at the site where the tick has been attached to them.
- Wrap the tick in a tissue and dispose of it securely. I usually flush them down the toilet.
Brown dog Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash
Ticks and disease
Ticks carry diseases so it’s important to remove the them as soon as you notice them.
They have the potential to pass infections from one animal to another and they transmit microbes that cause diseases such as Lyme disease and babesiosis. These illnesses can harm both humans and dogs so it is important to make sure that you stay vigilant for ticks if you are walking in grassland, forests or heathland with your pets, or they have access to these areas.
Lyme disease is a serious bacterial infection. If your dog has Lyme disease, you may notice they have some or all of these symptoms:
- loss of appetite
- a fever
- swollen and painful joints
- swollen lymph nodes
If you suspect your dog has Lyme disease your vet can perform tests to confirm it and start treatment with antibiotics. Cats cannot catch Lyme disease but they may bring in ticks that then crawl on to you or your dog (or you) and pass it on, so make sure that if you have active outdoorsy cats that you check them for ticks regularly.
Tabby Photo by Jarand K. Løkeland on Unsplash
Babesiosis is another tick-borne disease which can harm your pets. Fortunately it is extremely rare in the UK and the type of tick that spreads it is currently only found in southern England and on the continent.
It can take 2 weeks or more for symptoms to appear. If your pet has babesiosis you may notice:
- pale gums
- a swollen abdomen
- a fever
- loss of appetite
- they become depressed
- their skin becomes yellowish
These symptoms can be caused by other conditions, but your vet will be able to identify the cause if you are not sure.
Spaniel Photo by Daniel Lee on Unsplash
Avoiding ticks as a pet owner
If you walk your dog in woodland or long grass then you are likely to pick up some ticks too. To reduce the risk of being bitten, cover your skin, tuck your trousers into your socks, use insect repellent and stick to the paths. Remain vigilant, brushing off any ticks that you spot on your clothing.
If you do pick up a tick. Stay calm and use a tick tool or tweezers to twist it off slowly. This shouldn’t hurt if done carefully. Never try to burn a tick or poison it with alcohol or oil as this may cause it to squirt blood back into you, increasing the risk of infection.
Recently, scientists have found a few cases of tick-borne encephalitis virus in the UK, believed to have been brought in by migratory birds, this is exceptionally rare but worth being aware of.
Humans can catch Lyme disease from ticks, just like dogs. This can be very serious and symptoms include:
- a circular red rash, like a target at the site of the bite
- muscle and joint pain
Left untreated, the disease can develop into conditions such as:
- viral-like meningitis
- facial palsy
- nerve damage
If you catch it early enough, you can treat Lyme disease with antibiotics and it’s very important to check your pets for ticks as they could bring them into the house and share them with you.
If you think you may have been bitten by a tick in the past month and develop flu-like symptoms or a circular red rash, you should go to your GP.
Meow Photo by Sandra Kapella on Unsplash
Got any tips for treating ticks? Let us know in the comments section below! Stay safe!
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