Ticks and tick-borne diseases: how to protect your pets – and yourself -effectively

SP Studies show that 1 in 3 owners has seen a tick on their dog. And as well as causing an irritation to dogs, ticks can carry Lyme Disease, a serious illness that can affect humans as well as dogs. All pet owners should be aware of ticks, and they should know what to do about them. Many pets are not adequately protected, and if owners are worried, they should visit their vet for expert advice and treatment, and to ask about products that provide convenient longer lasting protection. Two thirds of owners admit that they sometimes forget to keep up to date with tick prevention, even when they know it’s an issue. Read this real life case study to learn more about ticks.

Ticks are especially common in Australia

Elsa’s an Australian rescue dog with a hint of Dingo about her: Michelle found her in an animal rescue centre in Queensland when she was living there. Michelle imported her back to Ireland when she moved here two years ago.
When she lived in Australia, Michelle had been very aware of ticks: in the warm climate over there, they’re common, carrying serious blood-borne diseases. Michelle hadn’t realised that ticks could be a problem in Ireland. With Ireland’s more temperate conditions, ticks aren’t as common in some areas, and the parasites don’t carry the same type of life-threatening dog diseases as in Australia. But ticks are still seen, especially at certain times of year (including the early summer and autumn) and they can still carry serious illnesses that affect pets and people.

Here in Ireland, ticks are a serious ongoing risk as well

When Michelle found a tick on the back of Elsa’s neck, she had reacted instinctively: she grabbed the tick, pulled it off, and threw it into the undergrowth in her garden. By the next morning, there was a reddened swelling in the area that the tick had been attached, so she brought Elsa in to see me.
Michelle was worried that the head of the tick might have broken off and stuck in Elsa’s skin, and while I could find no evidence of that, she definitely had an early tick bite abscess. I treated this by asking Michelle to clean the area twice daily with salty water, as well as giving her a course of antibiotics. She’ll be better soon, but meanwhile Michelle had two questions: how to prevent ticks, and how to remove ticks if she finds any more.

A range of products can be used to prevent ticks

Dogs and cats that spend time in meadows or undergrowth are prone to picking up ticks at this time of year. For some owners, the best answer is just to remove any ticks that they find on their pets, but many people prefer to prevent ticks using modern products. These include sprays, collars and tablets. The easiest method is probably a tablet from the vet that just needs to be given every four to twelve weeks, depending on the product chosen. If a tick bites an animal that is having this regular medication, the tick dies and falls off. This type of preventive approach is ideal for pets that are prone to picking up high numbers of ticks.
If your pet just gets occasional ticks, these do need to be taken off the animal. Never try to burn them off e.g. using a lighted cigarette. You can just remove ticks alive, but you need to do it properly.

The risk to humans must be taken seriously

Before doing anything, remember to wear latex-type gloves if touching a tick. Ticks can carry Lyme Disease which can be passed on to humans and dogs. It’s a nasty infection, so it’s best to prevent it by avoiding all contact between yourself and any ticks. When you have removed the tick, dispose of it properly: either straight into a fire, or in a sealed plastic bag into the bin. If you throw it away, it will lay eggs which will hatch into young ticks.
It is possible to remove ticks by direct pulling, either using tweezers or gloved fingers. Grasp the tick near the skin, avoiding squeezing its body, and pull outwards, being careful not to let the tick’s head break off by any sudden sideways movements.
To make it easier, use a proprietary tick removing device called the O’Tom tick remover which you can buy online or in pet shops and vet clinics. This twists and pulls ticks out, and it works well for ticks that have attached to humans, as well as to pets.

Effective tick prevention has never been easier

For many people, the simplest and safest answer is to prevent ticks altogether. If you live in area where ticks are commonly seen, your vet should be able to prescribe you with a palatable tablet for your dog. One tablet, given at intervals of four to twelve weeks (depending on the product), will ensure that any ticks that bite your dog will die. This is the most effective long term method of tick control, and if you don’t like the idea of your pet getting ticks, it can be the best answer.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore ticks: they may look harmless but they can carry harmful infections. Talk to your vet about the best way to prevent them.

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