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. They are common in the UK with one survey showing that, unknown to their owners, almost 15% of dogs are carrying ticks1. As well as potentially causing irritation, inflammation and infection when they bite, ticks are second only to mosquitos in transmitting infectious diseases2.But their small size (only the size of a sesame seed in their unfed state2), means
that they are difficult to spot and many owners are unaware that their pet is infested.
Protecting your pet
Regular treatment against external parasites, such as ticks and fleas, is an important part of keeping your pet healthy. A variety of products is available to protect your pet against ticks, and your vet can advise you on the most appropriate treatments for your pet. If you’re planning to take your dog abroad with you, 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. 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. 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. And don’t forget that ticks will bite and feed on humans too, 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.
1. Prevalence, distribution and risks associated with ticks infesting dogs. Smith et al. Medical and Veterinary Entomology (2011) 25, 377–384
2. 2. Buegnet, F. (2013) Guide to Vector Borne Diseases of Pets.