What are Ticks?
Ticks are pretty small and sometimes barely visible to the human eye. They are similar to spiders in that they are arachnids and have eight legs. They vary in size and as adults range from between 2mm and 10mm in length.
The body of the tick is usually a teardrop shape but can balloon up considerably after feeding. Depending on the species of tick, they will also differ in colour with the majority being a brown or reddish-brown colour.
Like other arachnids, they go through four stages of the life cycle which are egg, larva, nymph, and adult.
As they are arachnids and not insects, they do not fly as they have no wings.
Ticks are also referred to as Ectoparasites (External Parasites) as they survive by feeding off the blood of mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians.
Where are Ticks Found?
Ticks are endemic to rural areas of Spain and other parts of the world, especially to wooded areas with tall grass and bushes where they lie in wait for any passing traffic such as us humans and our canine friends.
Ticks will generally perch themselves on the end of tall grasses and shrubs and once a new host comes along, they will cling on and embed themselves in the skin of the host. As they are parasitic by nature, they will do this to survive and feed off the new host's blood.
As a rule, ticks will need a host to live off, so areas in which there is an abundance of wildlife such as deer, rodents, squirrels, and livestock are perfect for ticks and an obvious habitat in which to find them.
But it’s not only rural areas where they can be found. Ticks may also be found in urban areas as they can cling to clothes or get embedded in animal fur and be transported to a new location.
Ticks will also thrive in damp conditions and this is one of the reasons why Spain has seen a big increase in the critters recently due to the long damp Spring weather. They are usually less active during hot and very dry spells.
What are the Dangers of Ticks with Dogs?
Ticks are a real danger to dogs with one of the biggest issues being Canine Ehrlichiosis which can be transmitted to your dog by the tick.
There are three phases to infection which are Acute (Early disease), Subclinical (No outward signs of infection), and Chronic (Long term infection).
The most common signs of Ehrlichiosis in dogs are:-
Outward signs of Ehrlichiosis may not be apparent for two weeks or more after the initial infection.
Ticks may also pass on other diseases to animals such as Babesiosis and Anaplasmosis.
What do I do if I Find a Tick on my Dog?
When you return from your walk, run your hand and fingertips over your dog to feel for any small lumps and bumps and give them a good brush. You will also need to check in and behind the ears, between their toes, under the chin and neck area and look out for signs such as frequent scratching and biting of a particular area.
If you do find any ticks you will need to remove them quickly by either using tweezers or a specialist tool that you can purchase from a pet store or your vet. You will want to twist the tick off in a clockwise direction making sure not to leave the head embedded. Make sure you do not try to squeeze the tick's body as this may just cause the body to break off leaving the head still attached.
Once removed you will want to clean and disinfect the area, your hands, and any tools used, and seek advice from your vet to ascertain whether your dog has been infected or not. You should also dispose of the ticks by placing them in medical alcohol for 24 hours or wrapping them in tape and throw in the bin. Some people also advise keeping the tick in an airtight container in case infection does develop so they can be inspected by a veterinarian.
If you intend to regularly walk your dog in areas where ticks may be present, it may be worth purchasing a tick removal tool and some tick spray and shampoo so that you can remove ticks quickly and safely. You can also purchase a Seresto Collar which can protect dogs from fleas and ticks for up to 8 months.
How are Tick-Borne Diseases Treated?
If your dog has been diagnosed as having contracted Ehrlichiosis or another tick-borne disease, they will usually be treated using antibiotics for around four to six weeks. In some rare cases where the dog is anaemic or is bleeding, a blood transfusion may be necessary.
Are Ticks Dangerous to Humans?
Yes, they are as they can spread the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi to humans which causes Lyme disease.
You can also be infected with other dangerous diseases such as Anaplasmosis and Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF). Although Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever is endemic to Africa and other parts of the world, the first case in Spain occurred as recently as 2016 when a man died and his carer nurse was also infected.
When is Tick Season in Spain?
Ticks tend to be more active during Spring and Autumn when the temperature is cooler and when there are generally more rainy days.
How can I Protect Myself and my Dog from Being Bitten by Ticks?
Prevention is always better than cure. For us humans, it is advisable that if you are walking in wooded areas you wear long sleeves making sure to tuck your shirt in. You may also want to tuck your trousers into long socks for added protection.
For your dog, it is advisable to wear a protective tick collar which will impregnate your dog’s skin with a substance that will kill any ticks as soon as they latch on and attempt to feed.
Dog Photo by James Barker on Unsplash
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