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War on ticks

I have heard a lot in the news recently about ticks transmitting diseases to dogs. I have a five-year-old crossbreed terrier. How can I best protect her?

Paul Manktelow advises...

Ticks can be found all year round, but especially in spring and autumn. They are found most commonly in woodland, or areas with long grass. They usually attach themselves to the host animal around the head, ears and feet, and have a spider-like appearance with a cream-coloured body that becomes darker as they fill with blood. Ticks can spread diseases by feeding from animals that are already infected, then feeding on others, transferring disease through their saliva. One of the most frequently reported diseases spread by ticks in the UK is lyme disease, which can affect dogs, horses, deer and small mammals, as well as humans.

The symptoms of lyme disease in dogs include fever and loss of appetite. You may also notice swollen and painful joints, which can cause severe lameness in the affected limbs. If you observe any of these symptoms, you should visit your vet straight away, as long courses of antibiotics are often required. Humans, like other animals, can only become infected with lyme disease directly from a tick bite. The most common sign is a red, ring-shaped rash that resembles a bulls-eye target. There might also be flu-like symptoms, such as headaches and aching arms and legs. If you notice any of these signs, contact your doctor immediately for more advice.

The best way to stop ticks from attaching to your dog is to use preventative treatments that can be prescribed by your vet; there are various products available, including spot-on treatments, tablets and collars. It’s worth talking to your vet about which treatment is the most appropriate for your dog, as they vary in the length of time they remain effective, and some give protection against other parasites, too. Always check your dog’s fur for ticks when you return from a walk. The quicker these are removed, the less chance your pet has of contracting disease.

Don’t attempt to remove them by pulling, squeezing, or covering in creams, as this often means the mouthpart remains in the skin, releasing potentially infectious saliva. The best method is to use a special tick removal device that can be bought from most pet shops, pharmacies and vet practices. These can be used to twist the tick in a clockwise direction and remove it safely. Once removed, wash the area carefully to prevent infection.