We have heard of a number of cases of animals being affected by the processional caterpillars this year, with some of the animals being lucky to survive.

One particular case involved a dog that lost part of her tongue and if it had not been for the quick thinking of the owners in Bullas and the rapid treatment by their local vet Bernadine from Dingos in Bullas, the dog would certainly have died. The authorities are supposed to spray the pine trees to prevent the caterpillars from nesting, but with limited money to spend this is one of the things that is being neglected. The caterpillars are also dangerous to humans and there are suggested ways to deal with the nests that may help prevent the hair from the caterpillars getting on your skin or into the mouths of cats and dogs. (See relevant article on our website www.costacalidachronicle.com) It may be a bit late for this year, but it is still worth reading for future reference.

This month we thought we would concentrate on one of the diseases caused by ticks, as after this mild winter, there are bound to be infestations of ticks and fleas. The treatment for ticks and fleas on pets is a minimum of every three months, with more frequent applications during the summer months. The animals should be treated for worms at the same time.

Ehrlichiosis is a tick-borne bacterial infection, caused by bacteria which infect and kill white blood cells. Symptoms of the disease are high fever, severe joint and muscle ache and vomiting. If left untreated, it can affect the immune system which can in turn lead to other diseases. In severe cases of Ehrlichiosis toxic shock-like symptoms can occur. It can affect humans, although this is not that common.

Antibiotics such as Doxycycline or Minocycline are the usual drugs used to treat Ehrlichiosis, although Rifampin can also be taken. There is no vaccination against this disease, although studies are still being undertaken. It is not usually fatal and normally clears up after a course of antibiotics. If left untreated, the animal could die or certainly develop kidney or other organ complications.

General advice during the hot summer months is to avoid taking your pets into long grass and always check for ticks after returning from your walk. Wear protective clothing on your legs when going for walks and use an insect repellent.

Most ticks go through four life stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph and adult. After hatching from the eggs, ticks must eat blood at every stage to survive. Ticks that require this many hosts can take up to 3 years to complete their full life cycle and most will die because they don’t find a host for their next feeding. Ticks can feed on mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Most ticks prefer to have a different host animal at each stage of their life. They find their hosts by detecting animals’ breath and body odours, or by sensing body heat, moisture and vibrations. Ticks pick a place to wait by identifying well-used paths. They wait for a host, resting on the tips of grasses and shrubs. Ticks can’t fly or jump, but many tick species wait in a position known as “questing”.

While questing, ticks hold onto leaves and grass by their third and fourth pair of legs. They hold the first pair of legs outstretched, waiting to climb on to the host. When a host brushes the spot where a tick is waiting, it quickly climbs aboard. Some ticks will attach quickly and others will wander, looking for places like the ear, or other areas where the skin is thinner.

Ticks transmit pathogens that cause disease through the process of feeding. Depending on the tick species and its stage of life, preparing to feed can take from 10 minutes to 2 hours. When the tick finds a feeding spot, it grasps the skin and cuts into the surface. The tick then inserts its feeding tube. Many species also secrete a cement-like substance that keeps them firmly attached during the meal. The feeding tube can have barbs which help keep the tick in place. Ticks secrete small amounts of saliva with anaesthetic properties so that the animal or person can’t feel that the tick has attached itself. If the tick is in a sheltered spot, it can go unnoticed and will suck the blood slowly for several days. If the host animal has a bloodborne infection, the tick will ingest the pathogens with the blood. Small amounts of saliva from the tick may also enter the skin of the host animal during the feeding process. If the tick contains a pathogen, the organism may be transmitted to the host animal in this way.

After feeding, most ticks will drop off and prepare for the next life stage. At its next feeding, it can then transmit an acquired disease to the new host.

If you find a tick attached to your skin, there’s no need to panic. There are several tick removal devices on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick quite effectively. Grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible; pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

Clinica Veterinaria
Puerto de Mazarrón.
Tel 968 153 931
Camposol Sector A
Tel 968 138 081