What are tick-borne diseases?

Ticks are more than just an irritation to your dog - they can be a serious health risk too.

These parasites can transmit diseases which, at worst, can be fatal to dogs and - although very rarely - humans.

Cases of tick-borne diseases have reportedly been on the rise, and a study by Bristol University estimated there are 481 infected ticks per 100,000 dogs. Professor Michael Day, president of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, encourages dog owners to protect their pets against the parasites. "Because ticks feed on a number of different animals, they can transmit diseases between wild animals and domestic dogs," he said.

"While the majority of ticks are found in pasture and woodland, some species can be found in domestic environments such as homes and kennels. If you find a tick on your dog, it should be removed. The most important thing is to get the entire tick out of your pet - if you're not confident or have any concerns, consult your vet immediately."

What is a tick?

Ticks are parasites that feed on warm-blooded mammals. They attach themselves to hosts and gorge on their blood, before dropping off to reproduce and complete their life cycle. When an infected tick hooks on to your pet it can pass on any disease it might be carrying. Ticks don't usually transmit disease for 24 – 48 hours after attachment, so early removal can prevent this happening. Ticks can't jump or fly, but they are opportunistic. If your dog passes through their nesting spot, they will take cues from his breath and body odour and look to latch on.

There are many tick species native to the UK, but fortunately the list of diseases they transmit is small. Taking your dog abroad opens him up to the risk of foreign ticks and the diseases they might carry. With climate change and the relaxed pet travel legislation, which says it is no longer compulsory for dogs to be treated for ticks before entering the UK, it is also possible foreign ticks could reach our shores.

What diseases can ticks transmit?

There are lots of tick-borne diseases worldwide but UK dog owners need to be most aware of:

  • Lyme disease (borreliosis): The only disease carried by UK ticks. An infected dog might be lethargic, have a fever, lose his appetite, or begin to struggle with arthritis. In chronic cases Lyme disease can cause kidney, heart, or nerve problems, which can be fatal. Symptoms can occur a long time after the infective bite. Ticks are commonly found in woodland.
  • Babesiosis: This disease is rare in Britain but can be a risk if you take your dog abroad. Symptoms include lethargy, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, anaemia, and a yellowing of the skin between eight and 21 days after infection. The disease can strike suddenly and be fatal. Dogs who recover from babesiosis remain carriers of the disease and need to be monitored in case of a relapse.
  • Anaplasmosis/ehrlichiosis: Although this disease doesn't occur naturally in Britain, there have been reported cases of infected dogs in the UK. An infected dog might display signs of fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, depression, and, in severe cases, meningitis or seizures.


When it comes to tick-borne diseases, prevention is better than cure. Regularly check your dog for ticks. Ticks that are not engorged can be tiny, as small as 1mm. When stroking or grooming your dog look out for ticks, and remember to check those harder-to-reach areas such as between the pads and toes. If you find a tick on your pet it is important to remove it safely, as incorrect removal can result in the transmission of infected fluids.

There are some tick prevention products on the market. Very few repel ticks, while several only kill ticks, and can take up to 48 hours to do so. It is important to understand what the product you choose does, and always check if it needs more frequent application for tick control.

If you live in an area where ticks are prevalent you can vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease. If your dog has been bitten by a tick and is showing symptoms of a tick-borne disease, seek veterinary help as soon as possible. The quicker a tick-borne disease can be diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of recovery.

Safe tick removal

When removing one of these parasites from your dog, you need to detach the whole of the tick. Injuring it can cause infected fluids to pass from the tick into your dog's bloodstream.

The best way to remove a tick is to use a tick-removal tool. There are different products available but the O'Tom Tick Twister is highly recommended by professionals (www.otom.com).

Never try to burn or freeze a tick off your dog. This can be painful and is likely to cause the tick to regurgitate infected fluids.

Once the tick is removed, disinfect the bite and wash your hands thoroughly.

To dispose of a tick, place it in some tissue and flush it away.