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Bark Out

Tick Danger: be tick aware

Ticks are greedy, bloodsucking insects that are expert in sourcing food: your dog, or your children are ideal.

Ticks are found everywhere in the countryside, or even your local urban park. They're very nimble when hungry and will clamber up grasses and bracken and then wait for the chance to attach themselves to a food source. It doesn't take much - a tick can leap onto a dog just brushing past a plant and then crawl through the dog's coat to find a safe place to burrow into the skin and start to suck blood.

Favourite feasting places on the dog's body tend to be the soft skin behind the ears, the top of the head and along the spine or around the eyes. The nape of the neck is often the tick's target on young children.

Once the tick has found a source of blood, it first prepares the skin of its victim with by numbing the area with saliva. Then, it burrows into the skin and starts eating. After a few days the tick's body will have become covered by a peanut sized sac of blood. This is so large that the tick can't even use its legs. At this point the tick disconnects from its host, and bounces off to breed.

After mosquitoes, ticks are the biggest carriers of disease to humans. And as the winters become generally warmer then ticks are not being killed off by the cold, and their numbers are growing.

Humans, and dogs and horses, can contract Lyme disease (Borreliosis) from an infected tick bite. Lyme disease is a serious illness which can affect the health of you, your children or your dog for a long time. The disease has been taken very seriously by people living in hot countries for a long time, and the UK now has to wise up to its dangers too. There is no vaccine to protect against Lyme disease, and it can take several months for symptoms to develop in humans.

Protect your dog by using one of the prescription veterinary products that repel ticks and fleas, and use as directed to make sure your dog has maximum protection. If you're taking your dog to France or beyond, tick control is mandatory.

If you find a tick on your dog, or yourself, remove it carefully by using tweezers or a special tick removing tool (you can buy these in good petshops). Make sure that you never squeeze the tick's body when removing it, as this can make the tick regurgitate infectious fluids into the bloodstream of its host as a defense mechanism. This can also happen if you put vaseline or oil on the tick, or if you try to burn it off, or pull with your fingers.

Many people who live in hot countries will take their children to the doctor to get a tick removed. This is not over-protectiveness, and the doctor will both remove the tick and also keep a record of the date and location of the bite in case of future problems.

More health information is available from the tick-borne disease charity BADA-UK .

If you're not sure what ticks look like, images can be seen here .

Driving with your dog