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  • Julie Muller

A Tick-lish problem

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

Even the cleanest of our pets can be afflicted by parasites. Some of them, like fleas, ticks, and mites feed on the surface of our pets and others, like roundworms and hookworms, live inside them.

Our pets need protection against these two types of pest, because, apart from the fact that they can make our pets ill, they can also pass on disease to us.

When Bruno came home with us from the sheep farm where he was born, he arrived with six tick stowaways.

Ticks are tiny blood sucking animals which have four stages to their 3-year life cycle, and each stage requires a new host animal. A heavily pregnant female can lay up to 2,000 eggs and these hatch into larvae which hitch a lift and feed on the first host animal. Three to five days later, when completely engorged with blood, they drop off and moult into the next stage. This next stage seeks out another host on which they feed until replete and then drop off. Finally, they metamorphose into adult ticks which climb to the top of blades of grass, waving their legs to catch onto any unsuspecting host, upon which they proceed to feed until their abdomen is completely full of blood. Fully engorged ticks are so much easier to find.

In order to find suitable hosts, ticks have to plan their ambush carefully and they have a well-honed sense organ, Halers organ, which allows them to detect vibrations from moving animals, as well as subtle changes in carbon dioxide and temperature. It is at this final stage in the life cycle of the tick, when the female tick emits hormones to attract a mate, and they reproduce to establish the next generation of ticks.

Many ticks are not harmful to dogs, but some carry a bacterium in their saliva which causes Lyme’s disease. If undetected Lyme’s disease can lead to kidney failure and death. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, lethargy and general stiffness

So, it is important that ticks are removed as soon as they are detected. Care should be taken to remove the whole tick, and there are special implements that can be used for that purpose. Of course, the best solution is to prevent ticks engorging in the first place, and there are lots of tick and flea products on the market which can either be, given by mouth or, applied to the surface of the skin. Obviously, from a wildlife’s point of view, it is important that freshly treated animals are not allowed to go into ponds or rivers because those same treatments that kill the ticks will kill off the micro-organisms in the water.

Although ticks do not pose a severe problem to adult sheep, a staphylococcus bacterium in their saliva can cause paralysis in young lambs which have not yet developed an immune response to it.

Across the UK, sheep tick populations are increasing both in numbers and geographically, and to halt the spread, farmers are encouraged to assess the tick populations on their land. They do this by dragging a blanket across the ground and checking for questing ticks which have been fooled into believing that the blanket is a moving animal.

As people increasingly venture into the countryside there is a greater chance of our canine companions picking up ticks. We just need to be extra vigilant.

An eleven week old welsh sheep dog puppy rests in the meadow
Young Bruno lying in the wild flowers

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