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Beware of ticks in the countryside

It has been such a long, wet spring that we are abundant with ticks.

These little parasites climb up on grasses waiting for passing animals, then they jump on and dig their saw-like mouthparts through the skin, latching on very firmly indeed.

Once attached, they start to suck up blood and their bodies swell. Only when they are full do they release their mouths and fall off.

While they are attached, ticks can spread disease and one of these infections that is spreading across the country is Lyme disease. The bacterium causing Lyme disease is Borrelia burgdorferi and is secreted in the saliva of deer ticks.

In the first 12 hours, the tick is feeding there is little danger of infection, but after this time, the risk increases dramatically.

Lyme disease has been increasing since the 1980s, especially in Scotland and southern England. There are now about 3,000 human cases reported each year in Britain and most of these occur in the summer months as people are walking in shorts and ticks find it easier to latch on, but more cases are occurring in spring now.

The initial lesion in humans is a red circular target-shaped skin rash followed by neurological signs such as facial palsy.

Although not as yet proven, there may even be chronic symptoms in humans similar to ME.

In contrast, you are unlikely to see a skin rash in dogs but there will be lethargy, fever and inappetence after a tick is attached.

There may be swollen painful joints and lameness can last several weeks as dogs suffer osteoarthritis with Lyme disease.

Luckily for dogs, only a small proportion will develop the disease, but little is known as to why some dogs may be more susceptible than others.

Diagnosing Lyme disease is not always easy as the tick may have fallen off before being noticed. A blood test is required to detect the antibodies against Lyme disease to confirm exposure to it and treatment involves several weeks of antibiotics.

The best solution is to prevent tick bites all together. Always inspect your dog’s coat after walks and if ticks are present, remove them with a special tick removing tool and destroy them at once.

Never try to pull off a tick, as this is painful and will leave the mouthparts behind causing a tick bite reaction.

Use tablets or spot-ons that are designed to prevent tick infestations, as these are highly effective at killing ticks quickly before they can do any damage.

There is no vaccine against Lyme disease, although work is progressing in the human field on a vaccine as the chronic form in humans is much more resistant to antibiotics than the chronic form in dogs.

Cats can also pick up ticks and have been known to get Lyme disease, although much less commonly than dogs and there are now effective tick prevention treatments for cats too.

Just as a final word, if you have been walking through the countryside with your dog, check you or your family haven’t picked up any ticks too. Walk safely!


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