Talking ticks with Chris Packham

Vets across the UK are set to take part in the Big Tick Project, the largest nationwide collection of ticks from dogs in a bid to help scientists track what is feared to be a growing threat to people and their dogs from tick-borne zoonotic diseases such as Lyme Disease .
Topic: Parasites | Published: 13.04.2014 | Updated: 07.05.2015



In the UK, Public Health England estimates the number of new Lyme Disease cases each year at around 3,000 while Lyme Disease charities say the figure could even be as high as 15,000 annually.  However, the majority of people are unaware that this potentially debilitating condition also affects our pet dogs.

What is the Big Tick Project?

The University of Bristol's Big Tick Project is being supported by TV presenter, naturalist and dog lover Chris Packham, and aims to raise awareness of the risks and symptoms associated with tick-borne disease, and to educate owners how they can reduce their dog’s exposure to ticks and the diseases they carry.

Throughout spring and early summer when ticks are most active, vets taking part in the Big Tick Project will be giving dogs visiting their practice a tick check.  The ticks collected by vet practices will be sent for testing to the team of scientists at the University of Bristol who are leading the Big Tick Project. The team, led by Professor Richard Wall, will be examining the ticks for the presence of Lyme Disease and other tick-borne diseases which it is feared may be emerging in the UK. Owners whose dogs have taken part in the project at participating vets will receive a Big Tick Project certificate and have helped advance the knowledge surround tick-borne disease in the UK.  

The Big Tick Project is being launched by Chris Packham this April. 

Why ticks are a health risk to pets and humans

Ticks are unpleasant in their own right, but they are also a threat to the health of your pet and your family.

Ticks also spread disease, and as external parasites are second only to mosquitoes in terms of their public health importance worldwide. Examples of diseases they may transmit in the UK include:

Lyme disease (borreliosis), a bacterial disease of dogs, horses and people - a growing problem in the UK

  • - In dogs it may cause lameness, fever, anorexia, lethargy, swollen joints and rarely kidney failure
  • - In humans it may cause a rash and fl u-like symptoms, but may eventually produce abnormalities in the joints, heart and nervous system

Babesiosis, caused by a microscopic parasite that invades red blood cells has also been shown to be carried by UK ticks. The disease can manifest with high temperature, increased respiratory rate, muscle tremors, anaemia, jaundice, and weight loss.

Did you know...

  • A single female tick can lay several thousand eggs at a time
  • It can take up to 3 years for the adult tick to develop
  • Tick saliva contains an anaesthetic, so your dog will not feel the bite and neither will you!

So does your dog have ticks?

How to detect ticks

Check your pet’s skin on its head fi rst (around muzzle and ears, behind ears and on its ne ck), then work your way down its forelegs and the rest of its body, searching for any lumps on the skin surface.

If you find a lump:

  • Part the hair and look at it more closely or with the help of a magnifying glass, if necessary
  • The place where the tick attaches may or may not be painful and there may be skin swelling
    - It is distinguished from other skin swellings and growths because close scrutiny can reveal the tick’s legs at the level of the skin


What to do if you find a tick

It is important to dispose of any ticks you find hygienically and be careful not to release the live tick back into the environment as it could re-attach itself to your pet or lay eggs!

If you find a tick on your dog's skin:

  • The ideal device for tick removal is a specially designed hook with a narrow slot which needs to be slid with care under the tick at skin level so as to grip the head of the tick
  • Secure the hook in place around the head of the tick, ensuring that it is not entangled in hair. The hook is then rotated around its axis several times until the attachment is freed. The loose tick will then be easily detached and removed without putting either the tick or skin under tension
  • When attempting to remove a tick avoid handling the parasite directly without gloves - remember ticks carry unpleasant infections!

DO NOT attempt to burn, cut or pull the tick directly off - If you do so it is likely that parts of the tick head or mouthparts will be left behind

Effective control of ticks for your dog

Scientific advances have brought innovative solutions to the control of parasites in companion animals, with a broad range of modern products with improved activity, efficacy, convenience and compliance available only on prescription from your veterinary surgeon.  The wide options include spot-ons, sprays, collars as well as oral chewable formulations.

Re-administration of product is usually required for effective long-term control of ticks and fleas from topical and oral products at intervals which now range from a typical 4 up to 12 weeks for extended control.

For this reason, good compliance with instructions for repeat dosing is vital for optimum control. Speak to your veterinary surgeon for a recommendation as to which product is most appropriate for your pet and how best to ensure you give repeat treatments at the appropriate intervals.

Tips on keeping your dog tick-free

  • Groom your pet regularly - checking for evidence of new tick infestations.
  • Discuss the risks posed from ticks and other common pet parasites with your practice and follow their recommended approach to ensure optimal control for your particular circumstances.
  • Follow your vet’s treatment recommendations fully and at the correct intervals for the product in question.

An owner's story

Paula Kent’s dog Chaos contracted Lyme Disease after being bitten by a tick while out walking near their home in Fleet, Hampshire.

Paula who owns a pet shop, PK’s Pets, in Fleet, says that the disease had a devastating effect on the Kelpie-cross Chaos, then a happy, healthy seven year old.

 “While we were out walking, Chaos picked up a tick that I didn’t know about until we got home. I removed the tick and, 18 months later in June 2001, my dog was diagnosed with Lyme Disease.”

“It was probably three months until she started to show any symptoms. She started to walk as though she had bruised feet and then after about eight months to present with signs almost as you would with meningitis so she was very stiff in her shoulder and very stiff in her neck and started blinking and squinting.

“It was heart-breaking putting her through so many procedures including lumbar punctures and MRI scans before we got a diagnosis. It took three courses of antibiotics before she tested clear so the disease was a devil to get rid of. I don’t think people are aware of how much stress it can cause an animal to have the disease.”

Dog owner who contracted Lyme Disease on a walk in the woods

Joanne Drayson contracted Lyme Disease after being bitten by an infected tick on a dog walk near her home in Guildford, Surrey.

Joanne, who is now a leading campaigner for Lyme Disease awareness says:

“In 2003 I was was bitten by a tick when I was walking the dog. I developed a bulls eye rash that lasted probably for four weeks and then contracted what was described as a summer flu.  After that my symptoms were many not just muscle weakness but joint pain and swallowing problems.

“I didn’t know that you could contract Lyme disease in the UK. I was aware of the disease but always thought it was something that was unique to the United States. It was actually my doctor who suggested it to me and then my medical records confirmed the dates I’d been to the surgery with the bites and the rashes and the summer flu and the various symptoms over the previous four years.

“After a long course of antibiotics, I gradually recovered my health."

Today, Joanne still enjoys walking in local woodland with her one year old black Cocker Spaniel Meg.

 “I still enjoy walking in the woods but now I go more prepared. It is important to cover up, tuck your trousers in your socks, wear long sleeves and when you leave the woodland or countryside to always check for any ticks.

'Having had Lyme Disease I think it is so important that we take preventative measures to avoid tick bites, for our pets as well as ourselves. Any vet will be happy to discuss what preventative methods are available, so that you can decide what is best for your dog. I would be devastated if Meg were to suffer as I have done so taking precautions to prevent infection are so important.”

To find out more talk to your vet about the best form of preventative treatment for your dog.

Next steps: 
Vets say the most common reasons for treatment failure are stopping treatment too quickly and forgetting to re administer a product.