Ticks are blood-sucking external parasites of humans, pets, livestock and wild animals. They are also vectors of a wide variety of disease-causing organisms to animals including humans. There are around 850 described species worldwide, of which only a few exist in Ireland. Only one species is common in Ireland - Ixodes ricinus. There is a possibility that Dermacentor reticulatus may be present here, though this has not been confirmed. The latter species is present in the UK. Rhipicephalus sanguineus (brown dog tick) though present in southern Europe, is not thought to occur endemically in Ireland. Ticks are wingless and do not fly or jump.
Ticks are found in habitats that are populated by a supply of vertebrate hosts, mainly mammals and birds. Some of the most productive habitats are rough grasslands, woodlands and areas of vegetation around the edge of forests, along trails where a dense mat close to the ground provides a warm moist habitat to harbour developmental stages. There is a seasonal risk period for exposure from April to October, mainly influenced by sufficiently high temperature and humidity in the ticks’ environment to initiate activity and questing. However, the milder, wetter winters we have experienced in recent years mean that ticks are active year round.
A questing Ixodes spp. tick, waiting to jump onto your pet and start its blood meal.
Ticks are a common and serious threat to pet and human health, causing a variety of health problems. The site of the bite can be become infected, causing irritation, pain and possibly leading to the development of abscesses. By far the biggest problem with ticks is the diseases they transmit.
Lyme Disease is reported to be a growing problem around the world. In Europe, there was a 10-fold increase in human Lyme Disease cases between 1990 and 20101, and it is increasingly recognised as causing illness and hardship in people in Ireland2. It can also affect dogs, causing a variety of symptoms including lameness, fever, anorexia, lethargy, swollen joints, and (albeit rarely) kidney failure. Diagnosis can be difficult, as the signs are often vague and it can take months for them to develop following the tick bite. The bacteria are difficult to eliminate, so long courses of antibiotics are usually required to treat affected pets.
Symptoms include lethargy, swollen and painful joints, vomiting, diarrhoea, and neurological signs.
Is caused by a microscopic parasite that invades red blood cells of infected dogs. The disease can manifest with high temperature, increased respiratory rate, muscle tremors, anaemia, jaundice, weight loss and may be fatal. This disease is mainly found in continental Europe. There is a risk for travelling pets, but cases have recently been reported in the UK and Ireland too.
2. HPSC Factsheet on Lyme disease
It can be tricky to tell if your pet has a tick; before feeding they are tiny (<3mm long) and can be hidden in your pet’s fur. attached ticks on dogs />cats or other mammals remain—often unnoticed—for several days, making them excellent carriers for disease. Ticks are generally only noticed when they are filled with blood and protrude through the pet’s coat (or a human's skin). They resemble coffee beans and can vary in colour from grey to red or purple.
When ticks bite, they can cause a range of signs including:
It is important to note that many dogs and cats harbouring ticks may not display any signs at all, and the first indication of tick exposure is that your pet becomes ill due to a disease transmitted by the tick.
After feeding, an engorged female falls off to lay 3,000-6,000 eggs! It can take up to 3 years for the adult tick to develop. The eggs are laid in the environment and hatch to larvae which attach to another host, feed, fall off and moult to nymphs. These in turn attach, feed, fall off and moult to an adult completing the life cycle as in the diagram below.
Various products are available for controlling ticks. Your veterinary practitioner is best placed to advise you on the product of choice for your pet. For further information about protecting your pet, click here.