It’s time to be alert to tick bites

Anyone who regularly walks their dogs in the Cheviots will be aware of the potential for tick bites. However, the range of diseases ticks pass on are perhaps less well known.

This week, a tick borne disease known as Babesia canis, has been confirmed in the UK, found in several dogs in Harlow, Essex.

Whilst we do not expect to see infected dogs in Northumberland just yet, it provides a warning of the heightened vigilance required from the veterinary profession, and is a reminder of the tick borne diseases we do see regularly.

The condition is well reported in the warmer climes of Europe, but this is the first time it has been diagnosed in animals which have not travelled abroad, suggesting they were bitten in Essex by ticks infected with the protozoan parasite. The relaxation of pet passport laws, allowing animals to return to the UK without treatment for ticks, has been cited as a possible route of entry for the disease.

Whilst we do not expect to see infected dogs in Northumberland just yet, it provides a warning of the heightened vigilance required from the veterinary profession, and is a reminder of the tick borne diseases we do see regularly.

Tick borne fever is common amongst hill flocks, causing abortion in pregnant ewes. It is caused not by the tick itself, but by a microscopic organism carried by the tick (anaplasma phagocytophilum), which is injected into the sheep when the tick takes a blood meal.

It is unusual in that there is no treatment or vaccination so we have to rely on management of the sheep to control the disease. Young sheep are grazed on tick infested pastures to expose them to the disease before they are mated. If enough exposure is gained, they develop an immunity. In addition, products are applied to the fleece, which deter ticks from biting.

Some diseases are zoonotic, meaning they can be passed between man and other animals. Louping ill, a viral disease causing neurological signs, is the most common tick borne disease spread to sheep in the UK, but is uncommon in humans. Vaccines are available and flocks can be protected from a single injection. Lymes disease is also transmissible to humans and animals.

Ticks, and the diseases they carry, are becoming more prevalent in the UK. Farmers are generally well aware of the risk and take appropriate measures.

Ticks tend to start looking for a host once the temperature is over 7°C so now is the time to be vigilant and ensure your dogs are protected. Your vet can advise on the most suitable product.