Tick Borne Disease

Diseases transmitted by ticks (Tick Borne Diseases) are becoming of increasing concern recently in Ireland and worldwide. With the potential to affect both people and their pets, symptoms can be severe and in some cases even life threatening.

In particular, awareness about Lyme Disease, which is currently the world’s fastest growing vector-borne infection, is increasing. However more recently vets have become concerned about diseases such as Babesiosis and Erhlichiosis as more pets travel abroad on the Pet Passport Scheme.

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  • Ticks are small arachnids and so are in the same class of insects as spiders. They feed on the blood of mammals, birds and sometimes reptiles and amphibians.  By climbing up plants they can attach to passing hosts. Adults are easily recognised with their ovoid bodies which become engorged with blood when they feed.

    There are hundreds of different species, most of which have preferences for particular animal hosts and climates. Areas with woods, bushes and high grass in both rural and urban areas are particular high risk areas. Spring and autumn are recognised as particular at risk periods

    Unpleasant to look at, finding ticks on you or your pet should be a major concern as they are so good at transmitting infectious diseases, many of which can be extremely serious.

  • Tick borne diseases afflict both animals and humans and are caused by infectious agents that are transmitted when ticks bite their hosts. An increasing number of diseases are recognised worldwide, although prevalence of each varies between countries.

    For a host to become infected they need to be bitten by an infected tick and for that tick to feed for a sufficient period of time.  Tick borne diseases can lead to significant health issues such as debilitating illnesses, paralysis and even death. It only takes one tick to spread disease so continuous protection is critical for both you and your pet to reduce the risk of infection.


    In Ireland Lyme Disease (Borreliosis) is a primary concern for dogs, cats, and also humans. Awareness across the country is on the increase with increased publicity in the media as more people are recognised as being affected.

    Lyme disease can result in symptoms such as chronic fatigue and recurrent joint pain. According to the HSE on average 50 -100 people are confirmed to have the disease every year, however it is thought that the figure is likely to be actually much higher due to the difficulty in diagnosing the condition.  

    Ixodes ricinus and Ixodes hexagonus are the 2 key ticks which transmit the disease in Ireland. I. ricinus is thought to be more common in rural areas, while I. hexagonus is more likely to be encountered in urban areas. A recent study in the UK suggested almost 99% of the ticks found on dogs belonged to these two species.  

    For transmission of disease to occur it is thought that the tick must be attached to the pet for 16 – 24 hours (ESCCAP Guidelines 2012).


    Ixodes ricinus and Ixodes hexagonus are also carriers for Anaplasma species which have also been reported to cause disease in Ireland. Clinical symptoms are wide-ranging and non-specific, and include lethargy, lameness, anaemia and neurological signs


    Until recently Babesiosis was a disease which was thought to only affect pets in mainland Europe, as this is where the tick which carries this disease is most commonly found. However in the last couple of years this tick, Dermacentor reticularis seems to be increasing in incidence in Ireland and the UK. The result of which is that dogs that have never travelled abroad have been diagnosed with Babesiosis.

    The parasite infects red blood cells and can result in diseases such as severe anaemia which can be fatal.


    Rhicephalus sanguineus is the tick responsible for transmitting Erhlichiosis and is unlikely to be found commonly in Ireland. However the tick has been found on dogs which have travelled to Europe, where it is widespread, highlighting the importance of treating pets for ticks which travel abroad on the Pet Passport Scheme.

    The parasite initially infects white blood cells and can result in a variety of severe symptoms, including fatalities.

  • Protective clothing, such as long sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into socks are recommended for people when walking or working in high risk areas. Risk of disease can also be minimised by checking for ticks and removing appropriately after your day out.

    It can be difficult to find ticks in a pet’s coat especially when they first attach, at which time they are much smaller. Giving an effective tick treatment to your pet is the best way to minimise transmission of disease. Not all tick treatments are the same. Some kill more quickly, cover more species, and work more consistently throughout the treatment period. An ideal tick treatment:

    • Is easy to give
    • Is safe
    • Starts working immediately
    • Maintains both efficacy and speed of kill throughout the entire treatment period
    • Kills all species of tick to which your dog or cat may be exposed
  • It is not mandatory to treat your pet for ticks prior to travelling abroad on the Pet Passport Scheme, which is perhaps a pity as travelling pets can return with ticks not native to Ireland which potentially could result in importing diseases which previously did not exist.

    For the individual, protecting your pet against the ticks that exist abroad minimises the risk of your pet getting a potentially life threatening disease. Thus, it is recommended that you ask your vet before travelling for a product which effectively kills the tick species to which your pet might be exposed for the entire treatment period.

    Should your pet become unwell after travelling always remember to inform your vet of your trip so that they can consider diseases not normally found in Ireland in their diagnosis.