Over the past year, vets and pet owners across the UK have been taking part in the Big Tick Project, conducted by MSD and the University of Bristol, which aims to better understand the distribution of ticks and tick-borne diseases that affect dogs.
The survey was triggered by concerns that tick numbers have been increasing over recent years in the UK1. Each participating practice was asked to take samples from five dogs selected at random each week in Spring and Summer. They were then sent to the University of Bristol for analysis.
Many factors may have contributed to the increase in tick numbers across the UK. Changing weather patterns mean prolonged periods where conditions are favourable for tick survival, particularly wetter summers and warmer winters.
A lack of awareness amongst pet-owners leading to inadequate treatment and prevention may also play a significant role in contributing to problems for dogs. However, despite the growth of tick populations across the country, only 12% of people are actually concerned by the risk posed by ticks2.
More worryingly, 47% of pet-owners were not aware that they too are at risk of infection from tick-borne diseases.2
56 dogs were known to have travelled outside the UK in the two weeks prior to their inclusion in the study and 43 of these were found to be carrying ticks, predominantly I. ricinus. Although this species can be found in the UK, there is potential for pets exposed to ticks abroad to be carrying pathogens which are not native, leading to outbreaks of non-native diseases.
A further 13 ticks were found known as R. sanguineus. This species has now been shown to have overwintered in the UK in at least two locations3. R. sanguineus is of particular concern because it can live indoors, hidden away in nooks and crannies, and can complete its life cycle in only three months with all life-cycle stages feeding on a single host. This makes it hard to find and remove them from the environment.
The data clearly emphasises the importance of appropriate treatment against ticks for dogs that are travelling and the persistent threat of introduction and establishment of non-endemic ticks and their pathogens into the UK.
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Talk to your vet practice about appropriate tick control to protect your pet against ticks.
If your pet has a tick, find out how you can remove and dispose of them here
Ticks also pose a risk to humans from the risk of disease transmission. For those in high risk areas, we should be advising owners for their own health as well as their pets. Public Health England provide further information for us here