May is Big Tick Month, a campaign run by The Big Tick Project to raise awareness about the risk to pets and humans from tick borne disease in the UK.
Finding a tick on your dog can be quite worrying. We thought we’d know what to do if we ever found one on Elsa but when the day came we weren’t as prepared as we thought we were! Here’s what happened…
In September 2015 we spent two glorious weeks in North Wales with Elsa, near Aberdaron, on the western tip of the Llŷn Peninsula. It’s a breathtaking part of Wales and we enjoyed many walks through the beautiful countryside.
Before travelling to Wales we put together a canine first aid kit with everything from bandages to anti-bacterial powder in it.
We were aware of ticks and the dangers of removing them incorrectly by this point so we also included an O’Tom Tick Twister in the kit; it is a special tool designed to remove the tick quickly and painlessly. You can find them online or buy them from many vet practices. Removing a tick with tweezers is not recommended as it can increase the risk of spreading disease.
See the video on YouTube below for a demonstration of how to safely remove a tick with an O’Tom Tick Twister:
One day we stopped at Cilan Head – a gorgeous, open area where we could walk along the coastal path and take in the scenery. We were very lucky with the weather too, it was windy but quite warm in the sun.
Although we were aware of ticks at the time we were not overly concerned about them, especially since we keep Elsa on her lead when we are in areas like this. She’s not particularly responsive to a recall at the best of times and there were sheep and horses roaming around that we didn’t want her to disturb.
There were paths carved through the grassland and shrubbery so we stuck to these as much as possible, only letting Elsa stray to have a quick sniff here and there.
The sheep were curious but otherwise unfazed by the sight of Elsa, we certainly never let her get close enough to touch them. There were a few other dogs roaming around so the sheep must have been used to the sight of them and kept their distance.
At the edge of the cliff we had a clear view of Porth Neigwl.
Aside from the sheep and horses, there were clear signs of rabbits living in the area too…
At this point our understanding of ticks was that they don’t jump, they crawl onto their host from tall grass or plants. We really didn’t think that Elsa had come into contact with anything long enough for any to get on her.
All in all we had a lovely walk, the fresh air and the scenery were just beautiful.
Later that afternoon we took Elsa to the beach before finally heading back to our holiday cottage. After washing her off in the tub we noticed a small red mark on her front leg, and a tiny little speck of what we thought was a grain of sand.
Because it was so small we had no idea that it was a tick at first and I actually did the worst possible thing in the situation – I gently scratched at it with my fingernail (still thinking that it was just a grain of sand at this point). It came away easily and we managed to save it in a small plastic zip lock bag for closer inspection.
Frustratingly, we couldn’t see it very well and we continued debating whether or not it was actually a tick! Paranoia took over and I was desperately Googling images of ticks to see if I could match it up. Most of the pictures that we found showed images of large, adult ticks and this thing was tiny.
Since we were away from home we didn’t have access to anything like a microscope but we did have our DSLR camera and by reversing the zoom lens we managed to get a magnified view of the creature to confirm that it was in fact a dreaded tick! Thankfully it looked like it was fully intact. We examined Elsa’s leg too and aside from a small red bump, we couldn’t see any evidence that the mouthparts were embedded in her skin. This was a big relief as we were miles away from the nearest vet. We spent a long time that evening drying her off and thoroughly inspecting every inch of her body for other possible parasites!
It’s safe to assume that Elsa had picked it up that morning at Cilan Head. The area had all of the conditions that are ideal for ticks – livestock, rabbits, tall grass and shrubs. Despite our best efforts to keep Elsa on the pathways, it must have crawled off the ground or short grass in the area.
Ticks can carry diseases that are dangerous to the health of both humans and dogs including Lyme disease and babesiosis so I was mortified that I’d just picked it off without removing it safely. The scariest part was that we are certain that we wouldn’t have noticed the tick had we not bathed Elsa that day! When her fur is dry it is quite dense and it was only with it being wet we could see her skin more clearly and noticed the red mark…
We kept a close eye on Elsa over the next few days and decided to take her to the vet for a checkup as soon as we got home. Luckily she hasn’t suffered any signs of illness following the ordeal, but we are much more wary about where we walk her and also spend a lot more time checking her over when we get home now.