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Pets and Pests

Ticks are infecting more dogs than you may think, according scientists from the Big Tick Project at the University of Bristol. A study on over 14,000 dogs across the UK, picked at random, found that 31 per cent of them was carrying a tick.

The highest risk areas were the southwest, East Anglia and Scotland - and, while owners may think that dog in urban areas are less exposed to these pests, the study found no significant differences between dogs living in urban and rural areas. Infected ticks can transmit a range of potentially serious infections to their host, such as Lyme disease.

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-14-58-38Prof Richard Wall, who launched the Big Tick Project along with TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham, said, “What we are primarily concerned about is the diseases that ticks carry. In the UK, we have relatively low rates of the prevalence of these pathogens at the moment and, in contrast, in continental Europe they have much higher rates of disease. As there seems to be a rise in tick numbers, we need to be concerned and be aware of the potential for increasing problems.”

Chris Packham, pictured above with his dog Itchy, said, “I would say that this is a tremendously significant project. It’s the largest of its kind ever conducted in the UK and it has been extensive. It was well supported by vets and dog owners too and the data has been rigorously analysed by the University of Bristol. This is good solid hard data which revealed some very shocking and surprising things about the distribution, the population and potential that ticks have to give diseases to our pets and ourselves.”

The Big Tick Project was launched in April 2015 to raise awareness about the dangers of ticks and tick-borne disease in the UK, and to educate owners on how to protect their dogs from them. The project’s records show an increase of tick numbers across the country, likely due to warmer winters – which have also caused an increase in flea population.

Worryingly, this increase has not been countered by better prevention either: the latest PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report showed a decline since 2014 of 900,000 cats and dogs receiving preventive medication to prevent flea infestation – which can lead to serious health issues, such as flea anaemia.

Vet Rebecca Ashman said, “It’s worrying that there’s been such an increase in the number of pets that have never received flea treatments. Even if your pets don’t go outside, flea eggs and larvae can still be brought into the home on clothing and shoes. Flea infestations can cause terrible suffering, so regular flea prevention really is an essential part of taking care of your pet.”

Images provided by the Big Tick Project.

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