Following the recent news that four separate suspected cases of dogs infected with the tick-borne disease Babesiosis have been identified in Essex, experts are warning of the increased risk from foreign ticks being brought over to the UK.
According to a new study2 up to half (49 per cent) of pet owners admit their pet could have been bitten by a tick when in another country and more than two thirds (70 per cent) of owners are worried about their pet picking up a parasite or disease when abroad.
Since the UK Government updated the Pet Travel Scheme in 2014, growing numbers of dog owners are choosing to take their pets on holiday with them to European destinations, increasing the risk of a number of tick-borne diseases being brought back to the UK. Worringly, 46 per cent of owners admit their pet has previously returned from a trip overseas with a parasite or disease. Lyme disease is already an established risk in the UK with five per cent of respondents saying either their pet or themselves have contracted this debilitating disease and the concern is that other tick-borne diseases could soon also become established here.
With the introduction of the Pet Travel Scheme, pet owners now have greater freedom of movement when it comes to taking their pets abroad to EU countries. The number of Pet Passports issued by the Animal and Plant Health Agency increased from 72,325 in 2014 to 127,657 in 20153. Before it typically took over six months to get the passports signed off ready for travel but following the new legislation, pet owners now need only wait three weeks after the rabies vaccine before travelling.
The ‘No Bite is Right’ research among 4,000 dog and cat owners in the UK, commissioned by Bayer, supports a national tick awareness campaign, which aims to educate pet owners about the importance of helping to stop parasites biting their pet(s). It is supported by previous pet owner reasearch5 which confirms that 96 per cent of pet owners would be happier using a tick product knowing that ticks are repelled before biting and feeding. Pet owners are encouraged to speak to their vet about using a preventative tick product to meet their needs.
A ticking time bomb?
Ticks can carry a number of diseases, many of which are harmful to both pets and humans, and can be transmitted in less than a day after being bitten by an infected tick6. Ehrlichiosis, is seen in all Mediterranean countries and can infect the white blood cells in dogs, causing them to develop problems with their immune and blood clotting systems. Babesiosis is primarily spread by ticks across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America however with the four separate suspected cases recently reported in native British dogs which hadn’t travelled abroad this groundbreaking finding indicates this is now also a threat to consider in the UK. Babesiosis is caused by a parasite of the red blood cells which can result in anaemia, weakness and can even be fatal to dogs.
Richard Wall, Professor of Zoology at Bristol University, adds: "An increase in the number of pets travelling outside the UK and relaxation in the regulations governing the treatment of travelling companion animals has also increased the risks of the introduction of foreign tick species, particularly the brown dog tick and the introduction of diseases such as Babesia canis. These changes necessitate a greater awareness among the veterinary profession and pet owners of the risks of tick infestation and tick-borne disease.“
Jenny Helm, veterinary surgeon at Glasgow University, says: “With more and more UK pet owners taking their pets abroad on holiday, it is very important for them to be aware of the serious, debilitating and potentially life threatening tick borne diseases their pets will be exposed to. Pet owners should speak to their vets well in advance of any planned trips to ensure they can implement adequate protection for their pets before and during their period of travel.”
It is estimated there are between 2,000 and 3,000 new confirmed human cases of Lyme disease in England and Wales each year7 and 15 per cent of these are acquired while people are abroad. Lyme is the most common tick-borne disease in temperate zones of the northern hemisphere, with around 85,000 cases reported annually in Europe alone8.
Stella Huyshe-Shires, from charity Lyme Disease Action, also commented: “It is vital that pet owners are aware of the risk of importing foreign ticks and associated diseases. The Brown Dog Tick has been brought into the UK on imported pet dogs and can be very difficult to eradicate from homes where it establishes a breeding population. There are more diseases present in European ticks and pets are a potential way for new tick-borne diseases and new disease strains to become established in the UK. These can affect humans and pets and have very serious consequences. We recommend that any ticks found on your dog should be sent to the PHE Tick recording scheme for identification.”
No Bite is Right Campaign Manager at Bayer Animal Health says: “Owner education is key when it comes to taking their pets abroad and being aware of the risks from tick-borne diseases in foreign countries, as well as in the UK. Awareness that preventative products against ticks are available, is crucial to ensure they are giving their pets the best chance of protection against tick bites.”
‘No Bite Is Right’ is part of Bayer’s wider ‘It’s a Jungle Out There’ parasite protection initiative. A series of campaign roadshows for pet owners will be taking place this year at the Ayr, Devon and New Forest County Shows. Find out how to get tickets to the shows and if your pet and family could be at risk from ticks by following the conversation on www.facebook.com/jungleforpets.
1 Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association 2014 report. http://www.pfma.org.uk/pet-population-2014
2 OnePoll survey of 4,000 UK dog and cat owners, conducted January 2016
3 Data from Freedom of Information request. Animal and Plant Health Agency 2016
4 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs information sheet: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/390396/pet-travel-scheme-dec-2014-guidance.pdf
5 Opinion Matters, November 2014, 4955 Dog and/or Cat Owners
6 Public Health England factsheet, National Archives: webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140714084352/http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1317138937172
7 Public Health England Signs & Symptoms factsheet: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/463701/LymeDisease_SignsAndSymptoms.pdf
8 World Health Organisation factsheet: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/96819/E89522.pdf