Posted by Tony Bithell on 7th May 2014
Do you love being outdoors? Do you spend a lot of your spare time enjoying the countryside, marveling the outstanding views and breathing in the fresh air? Perhaps you join your family and pets outside at the weekends, enjoying a picnic or maybe a kick about. Well, If you can relate to any of the above, then you, your family and indeed your pet dog may all be in danger from ticks! You may be a target from a reported growing threat to our health and well-being - that is the threat of the infamous and annoying 'Tick'!
Ticks are insects which can often be less than 3mm in length, yet very much enjoy feeding on mammals, birds and, it would appear, us humans too!
Recent studies have found that, over the last 20 years or so, there has been a considerable increase in the number of these insects found in our countryside. A recent survey carried out by MyPetonline, found that within one square metre of a recreation park, frequented by dog walkers and families, up to 300 of these insects were found to be present in grassland and undergrowth. Therefore, considering that an average picnic blanket measures 150cm x 120cm, there could potentially be up to 6,000 of these unwanted visitors present on the back of a blanket. That's a possible 6,000 ticks being taken back into your car and maybe even in to your home which later could be munching away on you, your family or even your pet dog! However dogs are not the only animals that can be attached by these insects. In fact, hungry ticks feed on animals such as grouse, pheasants, mice, voles, hares, squirrals, foxes, sheep, cattle, horses and dogs. However, it is suspected that the recent rise in numbers is due to the corresponding rise in the number of free roaming deer - they just love to feed on deer!
Perfect conditions for ticks
In order for these insects to breed, they need the right type of environment and weather. Mild, wet winters are perfect conditions for them to thrive and experts suggest that they are more prominent during late Spring, early Summer and during Autumn.
Dog walkers are particularly vulnerable to attack from ticks, which much prefer woods, grasslands, bracken, heavy undergrowth and generally a humid environment. However, they are less frequently found in coniferous forests and in particular at altitudes over and above that of 650 meters.
There are many steps you can take to prevent being bitten by ticks. Listed below are just a few:
- Wear long clothes to cover up your skin - consider lightweight trousers rather than shorts and long sleeved t-shirts or baselayers, rather than short sleeved t-shirts
- Check your skin for ticks and tick bites after returning from a walk or a prolonged amount of time outdoors. Concentrate on your armpits, scalp, ankles or behind any creases in the skin
- Wear closed-up sandals rather than open sandals or even walking shoes, such as Grisport walking shoes
- Keep to paths and try to avoid long grasses
- Wear light coloured clothes, so that you can spot any ticks and brush them off immediately
- Use insect repellents:
- for humans - an insect repellent spray that includes DEET (e.g. Pyramid Repel)
- for dogs - flea and tick collars, 'spot-on' treatments or 'chews'. (Consult your vet for a suitable insect repellent treatment)
Treatment and Control
If you do locate a tick on your skin or on your pet, it is important that the whole tick is removed! Consider using a tick remover or perhaps tweezers to remove the offending insect. You could alternatively tie a knot in a length of cotton and place the knot around the ticks head, pulling slowly and carefully, so the tick becomes loose and remains in one piece.
Antibiotics may be necessary to prevent any further infection or illness. It is advisable to visit your GP as soon as poosible (or your vet if your pet has been bitten) to inform them of the situation and seek advice. An untreated tick bite may develop into Lyme Disease which, if left untreated, can infect the heart, joints or even the nervous system! For further information on the symptoms of Lyme Disease please see the Lyme Disease Action website.
- Use alcohol, chemicals or cream to remove the tick
- Use your fingers to pull the tick out as you may leave part of the tick behind
Possible symptoms of Lyme Disease
If you experience any of the following symptoms, you really should consult your doctor immediately:
- Rash around the bite area
- Swollen glands near the bite area
- Mild-to-severe headaches
- Feeling lathargic or tired
- Aching muscles and joints
These symptoms can present themselves from a few days up to several weeks after being bitten.
If dogs are bitten by ticks then they can develop 'Babesiosis', which is a malaria-like disease. If your dog becomes unwell, be cautious and seek your vets advice immediately.
Tick bites don't itch and irritate like other bites (e.g. mosquito bites), so you need to be vigilant and catch it early! If you suspect you have been bitten, make sure you visit your GP immediately!
That said, do continue to enjoy the fabulous outdoors! So, avoid the threat of ticks, take on board the tips above and - hopefully - you'll not need to have a visit to your GP or vets on your tick list!
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