Terrible Ticks & Horrible Harvest Mites

Ticks and Harvest Mites are small parasites that survive by feeding on different animal hosts, including mammals, birds and even humans if they get the opportunity. They can be a real nuisance for affected pets, often causing irritation, inflammation and sometimes infection and disease.

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Ticks

There are many tick species in the UK but the ones that commonly cause problems by feeding off our pets are the sheep tick (Ixodes ricinus) and the hedgehog tick (Ixodes hexagonus).

Ticks are mostly found in areas with long grasses, in woodlands or in heathland but they can be found in gardens if they have been transported by wild animals during their larval or nymph stages. They can attach anywhere on the animal’s body but are usually found around the head, neck and ears. Owners often mistake ticks for wart-like growths on their pets because of their size and colour.

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Tick facts

  • Ticks transfer saliva into their host and remove blood as they feed.
  • The tick body swells up as it becomes engorged with blood.
  • Ticks are usually active in the spring, summer and autumn months.
  • Larval ticks have 6 legs and are so small they look like specks of dirt.
  • Nymph ticks have 8 legs and are about the size of a poppy seed, and are the most likely stage to bite humans.
  • Adult ticks also have 8 legs. The female is much larger than the male and grows to about pea-size when fully engorged with blood.
  • Ticks will happily feed off humans if there are no other convenient food sources available.
  • Never be tempted just to brush or pull off the tick – any mouth parts left in your pet’s skin may become infected, resulting in an abscess.
  • Ticks can transmit many diseases through their saliva including Lyme Disease and Babesiosis in the UK and Erlichiosis in other countries.
  • Ticks can carry several different infections at the same time.
  • Localised infection may occur at the site of attachment without causing other symptoms in the animal’s body
  • If an animal has a really heavy tick infestation it could become anaemic

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Tick Transmitted Feline Borreliosis (Lyme Disease) In the UK

Although cats can contract this disease it is not commonly diagnosed or reported; this may be due to the disease being rare in cats, but may also be due to the fact that the clinical symptoms of the disease (e.g. lethargy, anorexia, high temperature, intermittent lameness and swollen lymph nodes) are often seen in other disease processes and problems in cats, so specific testing for Borreliosis may not be at the top of the vet’s list of possible diagnoses.

Ticks carrying the disease are carried by deer and are thought to be located in The New Forest, Thetford Forest, parts of Wiltshire and Berkshire, Exmoor, The South Downs, The Lake District, The Yorkshire Moors and the Scottish Highlands.

Common Tick Life Cycle

  1. Larval ticks hatch from the eggs and the following spring or autumn they crawl onto grass stems and seek out small rodent hosts using the sensory organs on their front legs. The larvae feed for several days before dropping off into the environment to moult into nymphs (In the UK this stage usually takes a year to complete)
  2. Nymph ticks seek out slightly larger hosts this time – usually rabbits, and feed for several days before dropping off into the environment to moult into adult ticks (Again, taking about a year)
  3. Adult ticks climb up onto taller vegetation to seek out a host. They usually feed off larger animals such as sheep, deer, dogs and cats. The adult female feeds for up to two weeks and then drops off into the environment and can lay several thousand eggs before dying.
  4. The whole life cycle can take up to 3 years to complete in the UK.

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Common Ticks found on dogs and cats in the UK

Ixodes Hexagonus

  • Known as the hedgehog tick.
  • It is often the most common tick found on cats and the second most common tick on dogs.
  • The larvae are mainly found on hedgehogs (hence the name) and also other smallish mammals that have nests/dens such as stoats, weasels, foxes and badgers.

Ixodes Ricinus

  • Also known as the sheep tick, castor bean tick or deer tick. Despite its name it will feed on any mammals or birds and lizards.
  • Its preferred hosts for the larval and nymph stages are small animals (rodents then rabbits and birds) and for the adults, large animals such as sheep and deer on which it has the greatest reproductive success.
  • It is the most common tick to be found feeding on dogs and humans in it’s nymph and adult stages. This is likely due to the fact that it searches for a host by climbing up to the top of tall vegetation, so passing pets are easy targets.
  • It only feeds once at each developmental stage.

How to remove a tick from your pet

We recommend that this is done using a specially designed ‘tick hook’ (pictured), these are readily available from veterinary practices, pet shops and on-line. If you are unsure how to use one, bring your pet to the practice and one of our nurses can show you how it’s done.

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How NOT to remove Ticks

If any part of the tick is left in your pet’s skin it may cause infection, abscess or the transmission of disease. In order to avoid this

  • DO NOT pull the tick off your pet, using fingers or tweezers
  • DO NOT burn the tick off your pet;  you could seriously injure your pet (Yes, some people actually think this is how to remove ticks!)
  • DO NOT use alcohol  on the tick; It wont make the tick drop off and I feel that alcohol has better uses!
  • DO NOT use Vaseline; whilst it  will eventually smother the tick, it will take 24-48 hours to work.

Tick Prevention

Fortunately there are now several really great products that repel ticks available for your cat. These products are only available from your veterinary practice or can be obtained from a pharmacy if you have a prescription from your vet.

WARNING – Never use dog flea or tick products on cats. The active ingredient used in some dog products is highly toxic to cats and can cause seizures and death

Harvest Mites

Adult harvest mites feed on plants and tiny insects, but their first stage larvae feed on the blood of mammals and will happily attach themselves to our pet dogs, cats, and rabbits for a meal.The harvest mite larvae swarm in large groups on dirt, long grass, vegetation, low bushes and plants while they wait for a suitable host. When a suitable host passes by they climb on and gather in areas where there is not much hair and the skin is quite thin.

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Picture courtesy of vetbook

Harvest Mite Facts

  • Harvest mite larvae are a problem in late summer until early winter
  • They are active during the day, especially if it is dry and sunny
  • They are very small but can just about be seen by the naked eye as bright orange dots,
  • The mites often attach to ears or paws, but may also be found on the pet’s chin, lips or tummy.
  • The larvae feed by injecting a fluid into the skin which liquifies the skin cells. These liquid skin tissues are then ingested by the mite.
  • Harvest Mite saliva can cause irritation, inflammation and crusting of the skin and, if the pet then scratches, licks or nibbles these areas, it can make the inflammation worse and can sometimes result in a bacterial infection..
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Harvest Mite Life Cycle 

  • Eggs are laid by an adult female in or on the soil or in ground debris and plant matter.
  • Approximately ten days later the six-legged larvae emerge. These larvae need to feed on mammal hosts for approximately 2-10 days, in order to develop and survive.
  • The larvae then return to the soil and after 5-6 weeks further develop into the 8 legged nymph. Which develops twice more before becoming an adult harvest mite.
  • The adult mites feed on plants and tiny insects.

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Harvest Mite Treatment and Prevention

There is no official licenced preventative treatment for Harvest Mites in the UK but Fipronil spray treats some other mites effectively and is thought to have an effect on the harvest mite. Fipronil spray is a prescription medication that is available from most veterinary practices (alternatively you can ask your vet for a prescription so that you may buy it elsewhere).

Harvest mites are only active during the day, and most infestations occur when pet’s lie in long grass on warm sunny days. If you find that your pet is particularly sensitive you could restrict outdoors access to early morning and the evening to avoid them.

Further Information

Please contact your local veterinary practice if you would like advice on parasite prevention and treatments or to make an appointment with a veterinary nurses who can show you how to remove ticks safely.

For more information about parasites you can also visit  http://www.itsajungle.co.uk/

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I am a qualified and registered Veterinary Nurse with over 20 years experience working with small animals. i currently work for Castle Vets Pet Healthcare Centre in Reading, which is a large, single center, small animal veterinary practice. The recently rebuilt premises now includes a separate but integrated cat clinic, outstanding in-patient wards and operating theatres, spacious comfortable waiting areas, 9 consulting rooms for both veterinary surgeon and veterinary nurse consultations, diagnostics room with x-ray, ultrasound and endoscopy equipment and a well equipped laboratory.
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