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Tick tock, it’s tick time

Nurturing

TINY BUT DANGEROUS Tick bites can cause serious or even devastating illness.

The vet's view

Conal Finnerty

It is hard to believe that we are into the month of June already. Summer 2020 is well and truly underway. And what a beautiful spring we have had (I speak of the weather of course; it certainly hasn’t been a beautiful time recently in lots of other ways).
The warm spring has presented us with amongst other things, a huge surge in the number of tick infestations in domestic animals. Our clinics have been busy with pets of all descriptions having ticks on them. Only last week, we had a tick-infested ferret.
There are a number of tick species that can infect both animals and humans, but by far the most common in this temperate climate is the species Ixodes Ricinus, or the Castor bean tick, the most common tick in Europe.
Tick infestations in domestic animals are generally, of themselves, not a serious issue. However, unfortunately, ticks do themselves carry other parasitic pathogens (organisms causing illness) that can potentially cause serious or even devastating illness.
The most notable of these is Lyme disease, a much under diagnosed illness. When a tick attaches itself to your dog or cat, or indeed to any domestic animal, it injects an anticoagulant into the animal in order to allow it to feed on its blood. This is how the tick can introduce the organism that causes Lyme (Borrelia burgdorferi) and potentially cause serious long-term illness in the host.
Lyme disease in domestic animals is characterised by a number of clinical signs coupled with a definitive diagnosed using a special type of blood test. Clinical signs suggestive of Lyme include, fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, shifting lameness, generalised stiffness and pain and joint swelling. Symptoms can progress over time to kidney or multi-organ failure if left untreated. Serious cardio and neurological symptoms can also occur.
There are a number of preparations available to treat tick infestations in domestic animals, which have varying degrees of efficacy. In areas where there may be large numbers of ticks, such as forests, woodland, areas of scrub cover and near lakes etc, these products may have to be applied more often to keep ticks at bay.
It is important that if you are attempting to remove a tick from your pet, that the whole tick is removed, especially the mouth and sucker parts, as they can, if left behind, become infected or abscessed. There is a proper way to do this – a quick search on Google will turn up some useful guidance on quick, safe tick removal. Doing it wrong can be dangerous. If you are unsure or are uncomfortable removing ticks yourself, a vet can do it for you.  
Humans can also be bitten by ticks and in rare cases can develop Lyme disease also. People can pick up ticks by hugging their pets or letting their pet sit on furniture or beds the evening after a walk in tick terrain.
If you are worried about your pet picking up ticks, or if indeed you walk with your pet in areas where tick populations are quite high, then you should give your pet regular treatments, it may be the best investment you can make to prevent the possibility of your pet contracting Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases, such as Babesiosis and Anaplasmosis, which are less common than Lyme, but no less serious.

Veterinarian Conal Finnerty MRCVS practises at the Skeldale Vet Clinic in Ballinrobe and Belmullet. Follow the clinic on Facebook, or call 094 9541980 or 087 9185350 to make an appointment.