Dog owners are warned of risks from disease-carrying ticks
The small look-sucking creatures are growing in number, with new arrivals from Europe feared to be carrying a disease that can kill dogs.
Disease-ridden ticks are on the rise in Britain after the adoption of more relaxed European pet travel regulations and warmer winters, a leading parasite expert has warned.
The multiplying and varied tick population is presenting a greater threat to British dogs and their owners.
Chris Packham, the TV wildlife presenter, is fronting a campaign about the risks of tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease, which affects 3,000 Britons a year.
Professor Richard Wall, from the University of Bristol, said the UK had opened the doors to a “really unpleasant” new species after pet passport rules were relaxed three years ago in line with EU freedom of movement regulations.
Family pets taken on holiday within Europe are no longer required to undergo tick-treatment before returning to the UK.
Professor Wall said: “There are a couple of European continental species of tick which we are now beginning to see in the UK that we didn’t have before. One is the brown dog tick. It’s started popping up more frequently and that’s a really unpleasant one.
“They can spread diseases from Europe that we haven’t got in the UK.” The brown dog tick often carries babesia canis, a disease which affects a dog’s red blood cells, causes anaemia and can be fatal. There have been no proven cases so far in the UK.
Unlike native species of tick – found outside, most commonly in spring and autumn – the brown dog tick lives inside so can breed all-year. It is difficult to get rid of because they can hide away in the cracks of houses.
Louise McCallum suffered an infestation of brown dog ticks after she fostered a rescue dog from Cyprus. A year later she is still finding them in her home in Houghton on the Hill, Leicestershire.
“I have two other dogs and I was picking ticks off them every day which was revolting,” she said. “I’m having to be constantly vigilant because there’s clearly a colony here, which is horrific.
“I was slightly naive as I assumed if a dog comes in from another country they would be treated.”
Professor Wall said it is vital that dog owners treat their pets for ticks even though it is no longer a legal requirement. “There are good preventative treatments now that will cover animals for eight to 12 weeks, plenty of time for before and after you go away,” he said. “If these ticks continue to get into the UK, we are going to have a much more severe problem.”
The Big Tick Project, launched by Mr Packham, found the numbers of ticks had increased at 73 per cent of locations surveyed in the UK.
Whilst the insects are most common in areas with lots of sheep and deer, Professor Wall said they are also becoming more common in urban areas.
How to get rid of ticks
The traditional solution of burning the tick to encourage it to reverse out of your skin is no longer advised.
The best way to banish ticks is by using a special purpose-built hook device. The hook is slid under the tick at skin level to grip the head of the tick then rotated to pull the parasite cleanly out.
If you try to pull the tick out directly you risk leaving part of its head or mouth inside your body.
Prevention is better than a cure: you can avoid ticks by wearing long sleeves and trousers when walking in moorland and wooded areas.
To keep your dog tick-free, groom them regularly to check for infestations. Your vet will be able to recommend a number of options for treatment, including spot-on products and anti-tick collars.