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Ticks are one of the five main parasites that affect dogs and cats in the UK. The other four are fleas, roundworm, tapeworm and lungworm. By doing this module you will:

  • Understand how ticks can affect pets' health
  • Know the ingredients in tick preventive products
  • Be aware of what type of tick prevention products are available on prescription
  • Know the key factors affecting product choice.

Ticks are parasites that need to feed on blood at certain times in their lifecycle. Before they can lay eggs female ticks need to feed for 5–14 days on a large mammal (such as a cow, deer, dog, cat or human). Ticks can attach anywhere on the body, but are most likely to be found on non-hairy, thin-skinned areas.

There are several different species of tick. In the UK, the most common is the Ixodes tick. There are usually two peak periods in the year when ticks are most active – between March and June and again between August and November. 

Being bitten by a tick can be troublesome. The small wound caused by a tick bite can become infected, or the bite can cause an allergic reaction. If there is a very heavy infestation, the removal of the animal’s blood by large numbers of ticks can lead to anaemia. 

Ticks can also potentially transmit diseases via their saliva as they feed. Ticks need to be infected to do this. The type of disease depends on the species of tick. Ixodes ticks are widely distributed throughout the UK. In some parts of the country some of these ticks carry bacteria (called Borrelia) that cause Lyme disease. Humans can contract Lyme disease (which can occasionally be serious), if they are bitten by an infected tick. Dogs are not usually affected by Lyme disease although in some it can cause joint pain.  Cats seem to be only rarely affected by Lyme disease. People cannot catch Lyme disease from pets.

In some parts of the UK, a type of tick called Dermacentor has become established. This tick can carry Babesia, a microscopic parasite that can infect the red blood cells of dogs and cause babesiosis, a serious chronic disease. Babesiosis is a disease that is endemic on the European continent, but it is thought that it could be spreading to the UK, because there have been a few cases in the Chelmsford area of Essex in dogs that had not travelled abroad. 

When they need a blood meal, ticks climb up blades of grass or onto the leaves of small plants, waiting for a suitable host to pass by. A pet’s lifestyle may put it at greater risk of tick attachment: for example, dogs walked in the countryside, or in areas with tall grass, or in pasture that is used by deer, cows or sheep will be more at risk of tick attachment than dogs that are walked on pavements. Ticks may be present in green spaces in urban areas, not only in the countryside. If an owner has ever found a tick on their cat or dog, it suggests the pet is at risk of ticks attaching in the future and it may be worth using a tick preventive product regularly, particularly in areas where babesiosis has been reported. 

To learn more about ticks and about advice for people, click this link to watch a short video from Public Health England.

Pets at risk of picking up ticks should be checked daily. Any ticks found on a pet should be removed with a tick hook. Pet owners may want to use a tick preventive product, particularly if the pet lives in an area of the UK where Babesia is present. They will certainly need to use one if the pet is travelling abroad. To read more about protecting pets travelling abroad click this link to go to the module “Taking pets abroad”.

There is a wide range of tick products available. Tick products contain either a drug that kills ticks or one that repels and kills ticks. A repellent effect means the product will deter the tick from attaching to the animal, or will cause ticks already on the animal to leave soon after the treatment is applied. Ticks will be killed when they come into contact with a tick-killing drug on the animal. For some of the prescription-only products the tick needs to bite the animal and swallow the drug in order to be killed. 

Non-prescription tick-killing products contain dimpylate, fipronil or pyriprole in the form of collars or spot-ons. Most of these products also offer protection against fleas, but check the specific product information.

  • dimpylate – several brands of collar for dogs (e.g. Beaphar, Bob Martin)
  • fipronil – many brands of spot-on for cats and dogs (e.g. Fiprotec, Frontline)
  • pyriprole – Prac-tic spot-on for dogs

Non-prescription tick repellent and killing products contain one of the pyrethroid drugs – either deltamethrin or permethrin – as a collar or in spot-ons.

  • Permethrin – several brands of spot-on for dogs (e.g. Armitage, Ticacyl). Also for the control of fleas. Permethrin spot-ons are dangerous for cats.
  • Deltamethrin – Scalibor collar for dogs. Also repels sandflies and mosquitoes.

The drug contained in the collar or spot-on spreads over the skin of the cat or dog. It usually takes a couple of days for the drug to cover the whole of the body.

Some of the products available on veterinary prescription cover a wider range of parasites. For example, some cover biting lice, ear mites, mosquitoes, sandflies and stable flies and some also cover worms. Some products are available as tablets and some products have been shown to have a fast-killing effect on ticks (within 12 or 24 hours), which is important for the prevention of some diseases carried by ticks abroad. 

If a tick product is required, there is a range of types to suit the pet and owner. A product will not work if it is not used correctly and consistently, so choice of formulation is important. For example, a collar may be preferred because it lasts for several months. A tablet formulation may be a better option for a dog that swims regularly or that has a skin disease. Spot-ons containing permethrin are dangerous for cats, because they contain a high concentration of the drug; a permethrin-containing spot-on is therefore not a suitable choice for a dog that shares a home with a cat. A product that has tick-repellent or fast-acting killing effect may be more suitable in areas where ticks are known to carry disease, particularly if travelling abroad.  

It must be remembered that no tick product is 100% effective, and the possibility of ticks biting and transmitting a disease cannot be ruled out. So, even if a product is used, dogs should still be checked for ticks on a daily basis.

  • There is a variety of different products for preventing ticks, some of which are only available on prescription.
  • No tick product is 100% effective, so pet owners should check their animal for ticks regularly and remove any found.
  • Permethrin spot-ons must not be used on cats.
  • Remind the owner to read the product information carefully.
  • Owners taking pets abroad should consult a vet about tick (and other parasite) protection. 

Practical exercise

Become familiar with the products for cats and dogs that you stock for controlling ticks. What different formulations can you offer?

Podcast

You can listen to a complete podcast of the module by using the play button below or use the download link on the right-hand side of the player to download the podcast to your mobile device.

which-tick-product-test-your-knowledge.jpg

References

Abdullah S et al. Ticks infecting dogs in the UK: a large-scale surveillance programme.  Paras Vectors 2016; 9: 391. 

Sanchez-Vizcaino F et al. Canine babesiosis and tick activity monitored using companion animal electronic health records in the UK. Vet Rec 2016; 179:358.

ESCCAP. Ectoparasites part 1. Control of parasitic insects and ticks in dogs and cats. Guideline 3, March 2009