Spring is the start of tick season and they thrive as the weather turns milder and moist. They are especially prevalent in areas where sheep and deer graze. Ticks live in thick undergrowth and wait to hop onto dogs as they pass by. The ticks attach themselves to your dog, most commonly around the head area but they can be anywhere on the body and can feed on their hosts blood for several days.
Dogs are rarely bothered by them and are usually oblivious to their presence. However, ticks can carry nasty diseases, so you should check your dog thoroughly after a walk. Any ticks found should be removed promptly as rapid removal lessens the risk of disease spread. the best way to do this is with a specially designed tick remover. These slide under the tick then you twist (DO NOT PULL) and the tick will become detached. It is very important not to just pull the tick out as this can leave the mouth parts of the tick stuck inside your dog. Also, do not squeeze the body as this can expel any blood back into your dog, again increasing the risk of disease.
If you do leave the head attached it is best to seek veterinary advice. They may be able to remove the mouth parts but if not, they can assess the area for risk of infection. Sometimes an abscess or infection can develop around the tick’s mouth parts and this will require antibiotics. In some cases, the mouthparts will fall out on their own with no further intervention. There is also the risk of a tick granuloma developing - this is when the dog’s body treats the ticks mouthparts as a foreign body and forms a hard nodule around them, this can then be surgically removed.
Ticks are very good at passing on diseases from one animal to another because they feed directly on blood. The two most common diseases are Lymes Disease and Babesiosis. Lymes Disease is a bacterial infection that can cause a fever, loss of appetite, swollen or painful joints and enlarged lymph nodes. It can be cured with prompt treatment with antibiotics but if left, it can lead to more serious complications such as kidney disease. Babesiosis is very rare in the UK but some cases have been seen in southern England. It can cause anaemia, fever, poor appetite, and a swollen abdomen. Treatment can be difficult and is not always successful.
As with most things prevention is better than cure. There are a wide range of medicines available to repel or kill ticks in spot-on, tablet or collar form. Please consult your vet as to the most suitable preparation for your dog and remember to check them straight after a walk.