A tick is a transient blood feeding parasite requiring a host animal to complete its life cycle. A hungry tick will position itself on some vegetation in order to attach to a passer-by. It will spend long enough on the host to consume enough blood to grow or produce eggs before hopping off to lay them in the environment.. The tick then dies and the cycle begins again as the little nymph grows into an adult.
Apart from the fact that they are rather revolting little creatures, they can transmit bacteria, viruses and other parasites, affecting both companion animals and humans. Infections are transmitted in their saliva as the tick feeds or, on the odd occasion, after the tick is accidentally ingested! One well known tick borne disease in the UK is Lyme Disease, which is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. When an animal or human is first infected they will develop flu like symptoms, this is usually treated effectively if diagnosed early. However, if left untreated it can go on to affect muscles, joints, the heart and nervous system and can cause severe and long-lasting symptoms. The diagnosis is reached on blood testing the affected individual.
Babesiosis is carried mainly by the foreign or ‘exotic’ species of ticks. Babesia are microscopic parasites that live in red blood cells and can cause serious illness in both animals and people. In the acute form of the disease, Babesia cause sudden rupture of red blood cells resulting in a life threatening form of anaemia. In the subacute or chronic forms, animals are anaemic, lethargic and debilitated. Diagnostic tests often show kidney and liver damage caused by Babesia.
Ticks are generally dormant in winter, and become active to feed in the spring and early summer. As the summer progresses their activity reduces, depending on species, stage and habitat. However, some ticks can be active throughout the summer. There is a second peak of activity in the cooler autumn.
It usually takes 24-48 hours of being attached to their host to transmit an infection. However, when they first attach they can be very small and therefore difficult to see even with thorough daily checking of the coat. They can be found all over the body but generally prefer the thin skinned and hairless areas. All visible ticks should be removed at the earliest opportunity using a tick remover to prevent leaving the head and legs in! However, it is recommended that one should use an acaricide alongside regular checking in order to minimise the risk of Tick Borne Diseases. A suitable product should be used at least during the more risky times of the year and in high risk areas. High risk areas include woodland and rough upland regions including spaces near deer and sheep.
Please be careful as some tick control products can be toxic to cats. We advise that you talk to your vet about the products that are available and we will find an appropriate protocol that is safe and suited to the individual.