Pet Health
everything you need to know about ticks

Everything You Need to Know about Ticks

Written by Steph McCulloch


Discover the essential guide to ticks: from identification to prevention, learn everything you need to know about these tiny pests and safeguard yourself and your loved ones against potential health risks.
a dog standing on grass, his owner stands behind him but is out of focus

This content has been written by the veterinary team at Protect My Pet.

What are ticks?

Ticks are blood-sucking parasites related to spiders. There are more than 850 species around the world and they can be found wherever there are land-dwelling animals to act as a food source. They have a unique organ (the Haller’s organ) on their forelimbs which senses temperature, odours, humidity and carbon dioxide - all signs that a potential host is near. They can even distinguish between different animal species and choose their preferred target.

There are four stages in the tick lifecycle: egg, larvae, nymph and adult. The larvae, nymphs and adults need a blood meal before they can mature and breed.

an infographic image of the tick lifecycle

Who can get ticks?

The short answer is any land-dwelling animal. That includes people! Once a tick jumps onto its host, it moves around to find hairless, thin-skinned areas to attach to. On pets, ticks can often be found on the face, ears, underarms, belly, between toes and under the tail.

There are more than 20 species of ticks in the UK, but the most common species that pet owners encounter are Ixodes ricinus, Ixodes hexagonus and Ixodes canisuga. In simpler terms, these are also known as the deer tick, hedgehog tick and dog tick.

close up image of ticks on a brown dogs ear

Where are ticks found?

Depending on the species of tick, their preferred habitats include rural woods and scrubland, urban nests, kennels and houses. The most common types of tick that affect our pets in the UK prefer woodland, grasslands and moorlands. These areas offer lots of protective vegetation and plenty of wildlife on which they can feed. Areas with high deer populations are often associated with a high tick population.

Ticks are most active in the spring to early summer and autumn months. Their least active time is winter, and there is also a dip in activity during summer.

Are ticks dangerous?

The real concern around ticks is their ability to carry and spread disease and blood parasites through their salivary glands. Globally these diseases are of great health and economic importance, as there are many livestock tick-borne diseases.

When a tick attaches to its host, it excretes anti-clotting agents to stop blood from coagulating. This means it can feed from one site for up to two weeks. This blood loss isn’t usually significant to the host animal, although it is possible for a large tick to cause anaemia in young or already debilitated animals.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Lyme disease, or borreliosis, is the only disease commonly carried by UK ticks. Humans and dogs can be affected if bitten by an infected tick. Cats appear to be more resistant.

Infected dogs may develop a fever, loss of appetite, or show signs of lethargy or arthritis. In chronic cases, Lyme disease can cause kidney, heart or nerve problems which may become fatal. There is often a time-lapse after the tick has fed and dropped off before symptoms appear.

Lyme disease in humans may cause a bullseye rash around the tick bite region weeks after infection. If you spot this circular mark on your body, or your child’s body, contact your GP right away. Early treatment can prevent an otherwise lifelong debilitating infection. It is rare to see this bullseye mark on pets.

If your pet becomes ill after traveling abroad, ensure your vet is informed about where they have been in case they need to consider other tick-borne diseases not usually present in the United Kingdom.

a close up image of a thigh with lyme disease

How to avoid getting ticks

The easiest way to avoid ticks is to not go into areas where they are present in high numbers. If you must walk through a forest or moorland likely to have lots of ticks, keep your dog on a lead to stop them running through vegetation where ticks will be waiting. This is particularly important during those times of high tick activity: spring, early summer and autumn. Remember to protect yourself in these areas by tucking trousers into socks and checking over your body for ticks frequently.

How can I protect my pet from ticks?

Treatments such as Frontline Plus Spot On, or Flea Screen Combo contain tick-killing ingredients. These products do not repel ticks, but they will kill them within 48 hours of exposure and prevent tick-borne diseases in pets when applied regularly. Companies like Protect My Pet can send these treatments directly to you, in exactly the right doses each month when they’re due. If you’re looking for a convenient way to protect your pet from ticks, fleas and worms, a subscription service is well worth considering.

What do ticks look like?

Ticks can be tricky to spot amongst your dog’s hair. They do however prefer the thin-skinned areas mentioned above: the face, ears, underarms, belly, between toes and under the tail. Look out for ticks daily as you groom or stroke your pet. If you do find a tick it’s best to remove it immediately.

Ticks appear as grey or brown immobile growths or warts on your pet. When they first attach they’re small and difficult to spot, but as they feed and engorge, they become more obvious. If ticks are scratched or pulled off and mouthparts are left buried in the skin, a small abscess can occur.

How to remove a tick

Tick removal should be performed carefully. Traditional methods such as burning, squeezing or using petroleum jelly are not advised as they can stress the tick and cause them to vomit their stomach contents, increasing the risk of disease transmission.

A tick remover is the best tool to help you extract a tick, although tweezers can be used if you do not have a tick remover tool. A tick remover is a hook-shaped tool with a slot that slides either side of the tick. This should be gently twisted several times to remove the mouthparts from the skin. Once removed examine the tick before disposal to ensure the tick is intact and there are no parts left in the skin. Gently clean the area after removal of the tick.

Being aware of ticks and taking precautions will help keep you and your pet safe. For complete peace of mind, continuous protection is advised too.

protect my pet promo image showing a dog sitting underneath a letterbox waiting for a delivery

Tick protection from Protect My Pet

Simply sign up for a subscription and they’ll send your pet’s exact doses through your letterbox when they’re due each month. Their tick treatments include flea protection as standard too, and you can also add a wormer for more comprehensive protection against common pet parasites. Find out more on the Protect My Pet website.

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