What is the risk of tickborne diseases to UK pets?

Cover Story - Vetrec -2018-May -182-18-ii -F1.medium  

At this time of year many animal owners will be finding ticks on their pets and themselves, highlighting the One Health risk that tickborne diseases pose. Pet owners are one and a half times more likely to be bitten by a tick than non-pet owners. This risk extends beyond rural areas as it is now well established that exposure can occur in urban parks. Current estimates suggest that a tick needs to feed for more than 24 to 48 hours before pathogen transmission occurs. As Wright and others discuss, regular tick checks should be encouraged and seen as an everyday part of pet care, regardless of whether you live in a rural or urban area. This should equally be extended to checking yourself for ticks. Therefore, prompt recognition and correct removal is important (TSS offer useful advice on their website). In short, client education is fundamental and no pet-owning household should be without a tick removal tool.


A major concern is the increasing number of exotic ticks that are entering the UK, which has been attributed to both the changing climate and the removal of compulsory tick treatments as part of the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS). The TSS have confirmed 399 ticks being imported on animals from 15 different countries since 2005. However, this will be an underestimate as not all imported animals that carry ticks will have had ticks submitted to the TSS. Most worryingly, six non-endemic species were found, the most prevalent of these was Rhipicephalus sanguineus, which could increase the risk of canine babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and Mediterranean spotted fever (a human infectious disease) being introduced into the UK. There has already been a house infestation of R sanguineus, whose source was an imported Spanish dog. There has also been much coverage of the 2016 Babesia canis cases in Essex, showing how a once exotic tickborne disease can gain a foothold among the UK tick population.

What you need to know

  • Checks for ticks should be carried out during routine physical examinations of companion animals. Focus the search on the head, legs and neck. Remove appropriately and ensure animals are covered with appropriate tick treatment. Ensure owners know how to remove ticks, and highlight the need for them to check themselves too.

  • Ticks are found over large parts of the UK, all year round, and so they should never be ruled out in a consult if an owner describes one.

  • Increasingly, exotic tick species are found in the UK and potentially carry exotic tickborne diseases.

  • Submit any ticks of unknown identity, or from animals that have a history of foreign travel, to The Tick Surveillance Scheme.

  • Little is known about the clinical incidence of tickborne diseases in companion animals in the UK. Research is greatly needed.

To find out more about tick-borne diseases in the UK, the risks associated with these and what to do next read the full article in the cover story of the June issue of: VET Record.

Article by John Tulloch, HPRU EZI Phd Student.

Posted on: 08/06/2018