Four dogs in Essex have been diagnosed with a serious, tick transmitted disease called Babesia canis. Although this disease has been reported in the UK before, previous cases were seen in dogs that had recently travelled abroad and been exposed to the particular species of tick which transmits Babesia. These new cases are significant because none of the dogs had travelled outside the UK, which shows that an infected population of Dermacentor reticulatus ticks, which transmit this disease, has become established here, at least in that particular area.
The significance of these cases for other parts of the UK is still largely unknown, and it is unclear whether the ticks have spread. However, it is important to be aware that other types of ticks are found throughout the UK, which can also transmit diseases such as Lyme disease to both dogs and humans. Therefore, it’s important to take action to protect your pet and yourself as appropriate.
Ticks are blood-sucking parasites which belong to the spider family and are common in the UK. As well as potentially causing irritation, inflammation and infection when they bite, ticks transmit infectious diseases. But their small size (only the size of a sesame seed in their unfed state), means that they are difficult to spot and many owners are unaware that their pet is infested.
Ticks are found practically everywhere, from forests to gardens to beaches. Tick numbers tend to be higher in certain areas, such as woodland, moorland, rough pasture and heathland. Urban/city parks, especially larger parks where deer are present, are also suitable habitats for ticks. So if you regularly go walking in this type of area, your dog could be at significant risk of picking up an infected tick.
Lyme disease in dogs
Lyme disease is a tick-borne bacterial disease which affects both humans and animals. The disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to humans and dogs following a bite from an infected tick. It’s the most common tick borne disease in Europe, and the number of reported human cases, as well as cases in dogs, has risen dramatically in the UK in recent years.
Signs of Lyme disease
The disease is transmitted when an infected tick climbs on to the dog and starts to feed. The process of disease transmission generally takes around 48 hours, although it can occur more rapidly. In some dogs, infection does not cause any harmful effects but in others, a variety of symptoms can be seen. The most common signs are fever, lethargy, losing interest in food, lameness and joint swellings. The disease can also affect the nervous system and the heart. In rare cases, serious kidney problems can develop which are very difficult to treat. These signs can take a long time to develop, sometimes several months, after a dog is bitten by an infected tick.
Diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease
Diagnosis can be difficult, as the signs are similar to a wide range of other diseases, but blood tests to measure immunity levels to Borrelia can be useful. Other tests are available which can detect the bacteria in tissue samples, such as skin or joint tissue. Treatment usually consists of antibiotics, plus anti-inflammatories to control the painful lameness which can be seen. Although treatment usually gives rapid results in the short term, it is very difficult to get rid of the bacteria, and relapses can occur.
Prevention against Lyme disease
Vaccination is an important way of protecting your pet and a vaccine against Lyme disease is available. Reducing exposure to ticks and using an appropriate tick control product is essential. Your vet can advise you on the most appropriate products to use on your pet.
Protecting your pet against external and internal parasites
Regular treatment against external parasites, such as ticks and fleas, and internal parasites, such as worms, is an important part of keeping your pet healthy. A variety of products is available to protect your pet against ticks and worms, and your vet can advise you on the most appropriate treatments for your pet. In addition to treating your pet, it’s good practice to regularly examine your dog’s skin and coat to check for problems, especially if you’ve been walking in areas where ticks are likely to be present, such as areas of woodland, moorland and grassland.
“Protecting your pet against parasites is extremely important and treatments are readily available from your vet. Conditions that are caused by parasites can be very uncomfortable for your pet and very costly to treat. I would urge all owners to ensure that their pets’ parasite protection is up to date. Prevention is always better than a cure,” – Gillian Rich, Head Nurse at The Mayhew.
At The Mayhew Community Vet Clinic, we provide low cost worming and de-fleaing treatments, as well as Nurses Clinics and general health checks for pets. Find out more about our clinic services here or book an appointment by calling 020 8962 8017.
If you do attempt to remove a tick that has attached, ensure you wear gloves and avoid touching the tick directly. Use a specific tick removal device (a hook or scoop) and do not attempt to burn, cut or pull the tick off with your fingers. If in doubt, ask your vet for advice about the safest way to remove ticks. Don’t forget that ticks will bite and feed on humans too and we are also affected by Lyme disease, so take appropriate precautions to protect yourself and your family such as covering up exposed skin when walking in areas where ticks are likely to be present and checking yourself after walks.
Taking your pet on holiday
If you’re planning on going on holiday abroad, the Pet Travel Scheme allows you to take your dog with you. To qualify, your pet must be:
For full details on the Pet Travel Scheme and everything you need to do, please ask your vet or visit the DEFRA website www.gov.uk/take-pet-abroad
It’s also important to speak to your vet about protecting your pet against exotic diseases, transmitted by ticks, mosquitoes and sandflies, which are frequently seen in some European countries.
Risk of disease
If you’re going abroad, your pet may be at risk of contracting potentially serious diseases not usually seen in the UK. Many of these diseases are spread by insects such as ticks and mosquitos, so you can reduce the risk by:
Even within the UK, the risk of ticks and some of the diseases they carry may be higher at your holiday destination. For example, ticks and Lyme disease are known to be a problem in many of the national parks and other popular holiday destinations within the UK, so may sure you take appropriate precautions. These diseases can be difficult to treat, so prevention is much better than cure.
If you’ve been abroad, the rules of the Pet Travel Scheme require your dog to be treated against tapeworm between 1 and 5 days before re-entering the UK. This treatment must be done and certified by a vet, so we suggest you bear this in mind when booking your return trip. Book your pets appointment well in advance as time slots could rapidly fill up, especially in the busy summer months.
At The Mayhew Community Vet Clinic, we provide low cost microchipping, worming and de-fleaing treatments, as well as Nurses Clinics and general health checks for pets. Find out more about our clinic services here or book an appointment by calling 020 8962 8017.
Information source: Merial Animal Health Ltd.
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