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Recent changes to the rules governing pet travel, combined with an expansion in the ranges of a number of different tick species, mean that the veterinary profession and pet owners need to become more aware of the risks of tick infestation and tickborne disease, says Richard Wall
CLEAR changes in tick distributions in Europe have been evident over the past 10 to 20 years. Climate change may be responsible for part of this, but changes in habitat management and host availability may also be influential. In the UK, the abundance of our most widespread tick vector, Ixodes ricinus, has increased, and the introduced European meadow tick, Dermacentor reticulatus, appears to have expanded its range. Recent relaxation in the regulations governing the treatment of travelling companion animals entering the UK brings with it further risks of the introduction of novel tick species, particularly the brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus. These changes necessitate a greater awareness among the veterinary profession and pet owners of the risks of tick infestation and tickborne disease.
Ticks are familiar, opportunistic, blood-feeding parasites, with characteristically long, slow life cycles and unusually low rates of metabolism. They cause damage and disease in their hosts as they feed, either directly through the transfer of saliva, injection of neurotoxins, skin injuries, allergic reactions and blood loss, or indirectly through the transmission of an extensive range of bacteria, viruses and protozoa (Bowman and Nuttall 2008). A recent randomised survey of 3534 dogs in the UK showed that, between March and October 2010, 15 per cent were carrying attached ticks without their owners' knowledge (Smith and others 2011), suggesting that infestation and the risks from tickborne disease are considerably higher than generally presumed (Smith and others 2012). Of particular concern is the fact that many species of tick appear …