DISCLAIMER: Caudwell LymeCo charity shares public domain information, which it believes to be reliable, in good faith. It should never replace the advice of a qualified physician with a license to practise medicine. If you believe any information on this website to be incorrect, you are invited to contact the charity using the Contact page.
How do I protect my family and pets from Lyme disease?
The three keys to protecting yourself are:
A: Prevent tick bites
B: Check for attached ticks
C: Remove ticks promptly
How does Lyme disease spread?
- Tick bites: Lyme disease is transmitted by tick bites.
- Congenital: Lyme disease may be transmitted from mothers to unborn babies, but more research is needed to clarify this.
Link to further information: Lyme Disease in Pregnancy
- Blood Transfusion: In theory Lyme disease could be transmitted via blood transfusion, but so far there has never been a recorded case of this actually happening.
Link to source: CDC Lyme disease FAQ
- You cannot catch Lyme disease from interaction with another person such as touching them, breathing near them, sharing food with them, looking after them while ill, or being at school with them.
- There is no evidence that Lyme disease can be spread by kissing or sexual intercourse.
- You cannot catch Lyme disease directly from dogs or cats. However, a tick feeding on a dog or cat could transfer onto a human. It is very important to protect your pets from ticks, for their sake and yours.
Where in the UK are ticks found?
Ticks climb to the tops of long grass or other leafy plants, around knee height, waiting for a passing warm-blooded creature to catch onto. Ticks cannot fly.
Their habitats include:
- leafy countryside
- urban parks and gardens
- They may be on the ground in some grass you decide to sit on.
- Ticks love leaves, so promptly rake up leaves that fall in your garden.
Some areas in the UK have very high tick populations, but our information on this is scanty and may be unreliable; it is safest to assume you could meet a tick in any region. Ticks’ natural hosts are the small mammals and birds which spend their time on the ground, such as mice and squirrels. Colonies of ticks can be found in any area where these animals are present.
Ticks can also remain attached to a pet and then detach in an urban park or garden, establishing a new colony.
When do ticks bite?
The tick breeding season is in May, and you are at far greater risk of tick bites throughout the summer. However we have received reports of people who have been bitten by ticks in the autumn and spring, so our advice is to stay alert to the possible presence of ticks all year round.
What do ticks look like?
Ticks are arachnids (related to spiders). They have eight legs, and look like spiders with unusually large bodies. Ticks have four stages in their lifecycle.
As a human, you would be more likely to be bitten by a nymph tick. They are tiny black or brown specs the size of a poppy seed. This girl has a tick attached behind her ear, near the hairline. You would have to look carefully to see that it isn’t just a freckle or a speck of dirt.
Adult ticks tend to bite furry animals such as your dog or cat. Before feeding they are small and black or brown, but after feeding their abdomen bloats to the size of a pea or a baked bean, and turns a creamy white colour.
How do I prevent tick bites?
Leaflet download: Lyme disease prevention steps
Tick defence for humans
1 Wear clothes that cover your skin, especially your legs.
2 Tuck clothes in and, in particular, tuck trousers tightly into socks or boots.
3 Repellent containing permethrin should be sprayed on your clothes (NOT your skin). Tick removal experts say this is far more effective than using any insect repellent on your skin. Some camping shops sell clothes impregnated with permethrin, which lasts up to 20 washes before needing to be re-treated.
4 After a walk in the countryside, throw your clothes into the tumble dryer for 15 minutes to kill any ticks that may be on them. Do this before flopping into an armchair for a little rest, or you may scatter ticks around your home. If a tick drops off in your house it can stay in some nook or cranny of the sofa or carpet for weeks, waiting patiently for the chance to crawl onto its next meal.
5 Put down a picnic cloth instead of sitting directly on the grass when having a picnic. It is not practical to spray insect repellent on your children every time they play in the garden, but it is easy to provide them with a picnic blanket to sit or lie on instead of the grass. Some British parks are severely infested with ticks.
6 Insect repellent containing DEET can be sprayed directly onto the skin. Tick removal experts have told us that ticks will crawl long distances over skin coated in deet until they find one tiny part which you missed, and then sink their feeding parts into that spot. However, for children who are likely to roll on grass, it is worth using; cover the back of the neck as well. Deet can be used safely on any part of the body except the face.
7 Encourage your children to watch while you check your dog or cat for ticks so that they learn to recognise them, and to tell you if they spot one on the family pet. This will help to protect both pets and children.
Insect repellents containing both permethrin and deet can be ordered online from Amazon and other websites.
What should I do when camping?
Special advice when camping
1 Take a pair of pointed tweezers suitable for removing all kinds of ticks (see below).
2 Take alcohol disinfectant to clean skin after tick removal.
3 Spray the entire groundsheet and tent with permethrin.
4 Have a “tick buddy” and regularly check each other for ticks in places that you cannot see, particularly behind the ears, on the back of the neck etc. See below for where to look for ticks.
5 Check your groin and abdomen regularly, as ticks will crawl long distances inside your clothing to reach this soft warm area. Males need to check their genitals, as ticks often attach here and may go unnoticed for a long time.
6 Wear light coloured clothes, including pyjamas, which will make it easier to see ticks.
7 Take a camping seat or at least a blanket to sit on, instead of sitting on grass.
8 Wash absolutely everything when you get home, or at least give it a blast in the tumble dryer: You do NOT want to bring ticks home as your holiday souvenir.
How can I prevent ticks attaching to my pet?
There are different products on sale to protect pets from ticks. They all have their pros and cons and we advise you to discuss options with your vet before making your decision on how to protect your cat or dog.
Tick defence for cats and dogs
1 Fluralaner tablets can be prescribed for dogs and cats to repel ticks and fleas. One tablet lasts 3 months and they are approved by the authorities in the USA, EU and Australia. There have, however, been safety concerns raised because the drug is excreted from the animal’s system very slowly. Fluralaner acts upon the tick’s nervous system.
2 Various insecticidal sprays for dogs and cats are sold online and in pharmacies. Any substance on a cat’s fur will be licked and swallowed. The same applies to dogs’ genitals, an area which needs particular protection from ticks. We suggest you research the particular product you plan to use so you will be well informed.
3 Various organic and “natural” tick repellent products are advertised online. The fact that they are “natural” substances does not guarantee that they are good for animals to eat, so please do your research, and also check how effective they really are.
4 Tick collars can be bought in pharmacies, which do not enter the animal’s body but are made to repel ticks. We have, however, been told by some pet owners that they found them ineffective.
- Tick protection should be backed up with daily visual checks.
- If you find a tick attached to your pet, remove and save it.
- Do not hesitate to take your pet to the vet if he appears to be unwell.
How do I know if a tick has bitten me or my pet?
Tick bites do not hurt and often do not itch, so the only way you will know one is feeding from you is to physically look and see it.
Some people react to tick saliva, and get a small insect bite that may be itchy. This reaction, if it does occur, isn’t a sign of infection. There are other rashes which may occur after a tick bite which DO indicate the presence of an infection transmitted by the tick.
How do I check myself for attached ticks?
You will not feel a tick bite you. you will only know you have been bitten if you examine your body and physically see a tick attached.
After your children have played in the garden, or with pets, examine their skin.
Ticks like warm, soft skin. They will walk long distances inside clothing until they find an area of skin they like. Their aim is to remain attached, feeding on blood, for as long as possible.
- They like warm crevices including the belly button, groin area (including genitals), armpits and between your toes or behind your knees.
- They like being under a snug waistband or bra strap.
- Ticks near the hair line can easily be hidden.They sometimes bite behind the ears or on the back of the neck where they are hidden under hair.
However, they will attach anywhere if necessary.
Watch the following educational video, which tells you where to look on your body for ticks:
How should I check my pet for ticks?
Ticks are particularly drawn to the warmer and less hairy parts of the body, so they are often found in the ears of dogs and cats, on their paws or around the belly area near the genitals, but they can attach to any part of the body, so the furrier areas should be checked as well!
The University of Bristol has done a research project for two years, performing spot check for ticks on UK pets. They found that one dog in three, when randomly given a spot check by a veterinarian, had at least one tick attached to it.
Link to source: Big Tick Project – The Results
How long will ticks stay attached?
Ticks often remain attached for hours or days. Older medical papers sometimes state that ticks can only infect a person or animal if they remain attached for 24 hours or more, but there is now plenty of anecdotal evidence that they can infect people after being attached for 16 hours, or for shorter periods than this.
How do I remove a tick safely?
Leaflet download: If you notice an attached tick
Ticks do not drop off after they have bitten you, the way biting insects do. They will hang on for days or even weeks.
1. Prompt removal is essential. Ticks can infect you after being attached for 16 hours, or possibly less.
2. Do not distress the tick before removing it, do not apply substances or do anything to disturb it. This will make it more likely to regurgitate bacteria into your blood.
3. Use a tick remover if possible. They include fine nosed or special tweezers, tick cards, tick hooks or twisters, and tick lassos, which are appropriate for different sized and positioned ticks. Some removers are called “tick twisters” you must not try to remove a tick by twisting.
4. Phone ahead and ask before you go to your GP, a vet’s or a chemist’s shop seeking tick removal tools. A&E may result in a long wait. Dentists have fine tweezers which can remove ticks.
5. Use long finger nails if you have no tick remover.
6. Do not squeeze the tick. You need to insert the tweezers or remover underneath its body, next to the skin. Pulling out a tick takes steady, sometimes considerable, upward force. Pull up straight, DO NOT twist.
7. Remove the mouth parts (a thin tube) if possible. If they are left in, the bite area could go septic but this can be treated.
8. Disinfect the bite area with alcohol/hydrogen peroxide/skin disinfectant.
How will I know if I catch a tick borne disease?
If you feel generally unwell, as if you have flu, after being bitten by a tick, this is cause for concern.
Not all ticks do transmit diseases. You may have a reaction to a tick bite at the site of the bite, which develops in a few hours, which is not Lyme disease or another tick borne disease. This reaction may or may not be itchy.
Lyme disease symptoms may develop any time from 3 days to 3 months after being bitten by an infected tick. Visit our page Lyme disease symptoms to recognise the warning signs.
What other diseases can ticks carry?
- Ticks in the UK: Ticks in the UK can carry Lyme disease, anaplasma and Q-fever. These can be very serious illnesses and can be difficult to cure.
- Ticks abroad: Ticks in other countries may carry additional illnesses. Mediterranean Spotted Fever occurs in all Mediterranean regions and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever occurs in some parts of the United States; both of these infections can kill humans within a few hours. There are tick-borne relapsing fevers in Africa and, recently, in some parts of the Mediterranean as well. If you are bitten by a tick while on holiday and develop a rash or a fever, regard this as a medical emergency.
More information: Other tick-borne infections