Four ways to avoid Lyme disease this spring

As we are unfortunately based in a high risk area of England here at Charter Vets, we thought it would be a good opportunity to take a look at some of the key facts about Lyme disease, how you and your dog could be affected and what you can do to prevent infection.

The tick is a parasite related to spiders, mites and scorpions.

Lyme disease is a serious infectious disease caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. It can be transmitted to animals and humans via the bite of an infected tick – a tiny parasite that varies in size between 1mm and 1cm.

The incidence of Lyme disease in the UK is unfortunately rapidly increasing in the UK; Public Health England estimates the alarming figure of up to 3000 new cases each year.

A little more on ticks…

There are many different species of tick living in the UK, each preferring to feed off the blood of a different animal host, but the type most likely to bite humans is the Sheep Tick, Ixodes rincinus. Despite its name, the Sheep Tick will feed from a variety of mammals and birds, including dogs.

Ticks are commonly found in woodland, grassland and heathland areas – and we have an abundance of all three here in beautiful North Devon. They thrive in moist, warm conditions so the damp, warmer winters we have been experiencing in recent years have extended the feeding season. Originally found from May to October, they are now feeding earlier in the year and for longer, representing a widespread and expanding threat.

Charter vet Tom Williams explains the problem with ticks in this informative video:

North Devon’s unmistakeable landscape is a haven for dog walks but it’s also unfortunately the ideal environment for ticks.

Can I catch Lyme disease from my dog?

Lyme disease is not transmittable from pets to humans, or from one pet to another; only through a bite from an infected tick. The risk comes from your dog picking up a carrier tick whilst out walking or in the garden, and bringing it into the house where it may attach itself to you.

Is my dog at risk of Lyme disease too?

Yes – in fact it is the most common tick-borne disease in Europe.  The disease is transmitted when an infected tick climbs on to the dog and starts to feed. The process of disease transmission generally takes around 48 hours, although it can occur more rapidly. In some dogs, infection does not cause any harmful effects but in others, a variety of signs can be seen.

The most common signs are:

  • Fever

  • Lethargy

  • Loss of appetite

  • Swollen and painful joints

  • Lameness

Prevention is definitely better than cure.

There are a series of precautions you can take to minimise the risk of Lyme disease to both you and your dog.

1) Consider vaccinating

A vaccine against Lyme disease has recently become available in the UK and is worth serious consideration, especially if you live in a high risk area such as North Devon. Learn more here.

2) Use a preventative treatment

There are a variety of preventative products available, such as spot-on treatments and repellant collars. Speak to your vet who can advise you on the most suitable products to use on your pet. Read more here.

3) Check your pet regularly

Ticks are large enough to be felt in your dog’s coat so run your hands over their body when you return from a walk to check for any unusual lumps. Pay particular attention to their head, checking around their muzzle, behind their ears and down their neck before moving down forelegs and eventually the rest of the body.

4) Remove ticks safely

If you do spot one, do not handle ticks without gloves and be sure to use a specially designed tick remover. These are inexpensive and available from your local Charter Vets, or pet shop. It is important not to squeeze the tick’s body or allow its head to be left inside your pet – this can increase the risk of infection. If in doubt, ask your vet for advice. 

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