Chris Packham wildlife expert will be on TV and national radio tomorrow discussing the tick prevalence and tick borne diseases. Tomorrow marks the launch of the Big Tick Project which is trying to raise awareness and help educate pet owners on the risks of parasites.
Why Scratchy never needs to scratch
Prevention is always better than cure and no more so than when it comes to tackling the small, silent and sometimes deadly health risks associated with tick and flea bites. Due of the micro-nature of the threat it’s too easy to fall victim to ‘out of sight out of mind’ until we have a seriously ill pet on our hands.
I’ve recently been involved in the ‘Big Tick Project’, the largest scientific study of ticks and tick-borne diseases ever conducted in the UK. You can find out about this novel project here – www.bigtickproject.co.uk . Shockingly, almost one in three dogs assessed during the study were found to be carrying ticks – and worse it was unbeknown to their owners! This potentially puts their pets at risk of contracting tick-related diseases such as Lyme disease and canine babesiosis, both of which have been identified in the UK and can be very dangerous indeed. The former is probably the better known of the two due to its propensity to infect humans – a friend of mine developed Lyme disease while travelling abroad: it wasn’t diagnosed for some time and consequently he became gravely ill and almost died. In both humans and animals, symptoms of Lyme disease can be very tricky to pin down due to their generalist nature e.g. lack of appetite, lethargy, fever and depression. This makes diagnosis more difficult. Sadly this means that antibiotic treatment may be less effective than if given early on in the disease.
Dogs with babesiosis also show signs of fatigue along with other symptoms such as jaundice and anaemia – if left untreated it can cause catastrophic failure in the lungs/liver and central nervous system.
Ticks are tricky. Even when you check your pet for ticks they can be tough to find because they’re small and hide well in fur. But it’s crucial to find ticks and remove them quickly. Why? Ticks potentially share diseases with your pet; all you need is one undetected tick bite for your pet to become infected.
Like their tick relatives, fleas are very – resilient many of our pets have been bitten because fleas are everywhere! Yes, fleas live outdoors but they live indoors too – even in really clean homes year-round in any climate. Fleas will gladly hitch a ride on your pet into your house. If your pet has fleas the consequences can range from irritation to severe skin allergy, transmission of tapeworm and, in some cases, anaemia.
I don’t want to go scaremongering but . . . the world is an ever evolving place, the climate here is becoming wetter in the summer and milder in winter and this means that conditions are more favourable for ticks and fleas. Globe-trotting with our pets is also generating opportunities for new diseases to emerge here in the UK – like canine babesiosis which, up until last year when an outbreak occurred in Essex, was only considered a risk for pets holidaying overseas.
When Scratchy is running around, we say ‘Scratcher has a flea’! Well, hopefully he doesn’t ever really have fleas because he’s on a routine preventative plan, as he is for ticks. This is especially important because we walk through lots of woodland but let me be very clear here . . . ticks and fleas are also extremely troublesome in urban areas too. Anywhere dogs are walked and wild animals patrol there can be ticks present so that could include the grassy strip along the pavement outside your house in the city as well as the local park.
So my ‘call to action’ here is to urge you and your feline or canine companions to pootle on down to your local vets to find out about the innovative, effective, and convenient treatments available to keep these parasites at bay! To protect dogs from ticks and fleas there are spot-on (typically applied every four weeks), sprays, collars and oral chewable formulations which can give up to 12 weeks protection, with the wide range of options available your vet will be able to guide you to the most effective treatment for your pet’s lifestyle. It’s simple really, controlling ticks and fleas on your pet reduces the risk of disease, which for me means ‘Scratchy’ won’t need to scratch and I can rest assured that I’m doing what I can to help keep him free of irritation and the illnesses they can carry.