Cat in the grass

Beware of Ticks!

Caution helps to protect dogs and cats

11.4.2023

Ticks are not only a danger in spring and summer, they are also active when temperatures are low. These arachnids wake from their winter sleep at around 8°C. Because they transmit microbes that cause diseases, these bloodsuckers are also dangerous for our pets. The number of Lyme disease, TBE and babesiosis cases is increasing1–7.

The number of infections with Lyme disease, TBE and babesiosis is on the rise, and experts estimate that every fourth tick carries pathogens.

Babesiosis8–11, also known as canine babesiosis, is transmitted by the so-called 'marsh tick'. First symptoms include exhaustion and lack of appetite and can lead to anaemia accompanied by fever and lethargy. If you suspect that your pet might have babesiosis, see a vet immediately. Without treatment, the disease is lethal!

The same is true of Tick-Borne Encephalitis (TBE)6. Weakness and drowsiness are early warning signals, followed by high fever and seizures. However, TBE is most often diagnosed in animals with a weak immune system. In its early stages, TBE can be treated with antibiotics. Without treatment, TBE leads to fever attacks, fatigue and joint inflammation, and eventually to paralysis. Vaccination is recommended, although unfortunately, it does not offer 100 percent protection.

Ticks lurk in high grass waiting for their victims

The first ticks become active as temperatures rise, usually in March when temperatures go beyond 8°C (46,4°F). In May and June the highest activity can be observed, which drops towards the autumn months (e.g. October)12.

These arachnids mainly live in deciduous forests and mixed woodlands. They sit on grasses and ferns at a height of up to 1.5 meters - not on trees, as is often mistakenly believed - waiting for their victims13. Haller's organ, a sensory organ on the ticks' front legs, enables the eyeless 'vampires' to detect a host animal. Once they have settled on the host, they pierce the animal's skin with their scissor-like mouth parts and suck the blood. They gorge on the host animal for days before dropping off. Ticks can increase their body weight by up to 200 times and, depending on the species, a female tick can ingest up to 600 ml of blood.     

Important: check your pet after each outdoor activity

After each walk or time spent outdoors, the body of your dog or cat should be thoroughly examined. Remove any ticks immediately.

In addition, 'spot-on' tick control products recommended by a vet can protect your pet. Drops are applied to the back of the neck (and - depending on the product - often also right before the base of the tail) where the animal cannot lick them off. Various products are available that both defend against ticks and kill them. Please take care in case of the insecticide 'Permethrin': while dogs tolerate this substance very well, it can be very toxic for cats. Read the instruction sheet carefully and do not use the same product to treat dogs and cats14,15.

Spot-on products are recommended for cats especially, rather than flea collars, because the collar can get caught when cats roam around or climb. In general, commercially available anti-parasite collars do not guarantee 100 percent protection. Each product has an expiry date that must be watched.

Plant-based alternatives

As a popular plant-based alternative to conventional spot-on products against ticks, you can also use natural coconut or essential oils16–19. It has been scientifically shown that the lauric acid component in coconut oil can deter ticks or has a supportive repellent effect20–25. However, as the protective effect only lasts for around six hours, the coconut oil must be applied to the coat at regular intervals. Studies have also reported that a mixture with turmeric-16 or lavender oil26,27  can therefore prolong the effectiveness. It is advisable to seek professional support here.

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Source

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27. Barrozo MM, Zeringóta V, Borges LMF, Moraes N, Benz K, Farr A, Zhu JJ. Repellent and acaricidal activity of coconut oil fatty acids and their derivative compounds and catnip oil against Amblyomma sculptum. Veterinary Parasitology. 2021;300:109591. doi:10.1016/j.vetpar.2021.109591
 

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