How to protect your family and pets

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 does Lyme disease spread?

Lyme disease is transmitted by tick bites.

Lyme disease may infect or harm unborn babies if the mother is infected, but more research is needed to clarify this.

Link to further information: Lyme Disease in Pregnancy

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.

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: follow this link.

How do I protect my family and pets?

The three keys to protecting  yourself are:

A: Prevent bites
B: Check for attached ticks
C: Remove ticks correctly

Where in the UK are ticks found?

Ticks’ natural hosts are the small mammals and birds which spend their time on the ground, such as mice and squirrels.

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:

  • forests
  • 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.

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.

tick nymph
Source: Wikipedia

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 can I prevent ticks attaching to my family members?

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.

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 should I check my body for ticks?

After your children have played in the garden, or with pets, examine their skin.

Ticks 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 the belly and groin area. Ticks near the hair line can easily be hidden. 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 far shorter periods than this.

How to remove a tick safely

How will I know if I catch a tick borne disease?

Not all ticks do transmit diseases. If they do, some physical signs of tick borne diseases found in Britan may be:

– an erythema migrans rash which indicates Lyme disease

– Paralysis of one side of your face (Bell’s palsy), or another part of your body

– A black mark or tiny scab (called tache noir) and, later, red spots all over, which indicates rickettsia or Mediterranean Spotted Fever (this sometimes fatal disease occurs in continental Europe, especially the Mediterranean, but not in the UK).

If you develop one of these rashes, take photographs of it so that you can show them to a specialist later if necessary, and so that you can show the development/progress of the rash to your doctor.

Not all patients have these rashes. If you have no visible symptoms, there is still a possibility that you could have an infection. If you begin to feel ill with what doctors call “non-specific symptoms” (which means symptoms that could be caused by lots of different illnesses, such as fever, swollen glands, body aches, headache etc.) then visit your doctor and explain when and where you were bitten by a tick.