What are ticks?

Ticks are blood sucking parasites related to spiders. Adults have a pointed head, a body and four pairs of legs. Mouth parts, which possess a barbed structure, protrude from the head. A tick’s body is capable of considerable distension to accommodate the blood that the tick sucks from the host animal it infests.

The tick lifecycle

Hungry ticks position themselves on vegetation and attach to passing animals. 

The mouthparts pierce the animal’s skin and the barbed structure is then used to anchor the tick to the animal for several days. 

A tick will then feed over several days, sucking blood and passing saliva back into the host.

Once a female tick is fully fed or engorged, she drops off the host animal to lay her thousands of eggs in the environment.

Tiny larval ticks (1mm in size) that hatch from the eggs have to find a host on which to feed. They then moult to the nymph stage which also feeds on blood.

After a second moult, the tick develops into a male or female approximately 4-6 mm in size. Only the female takes blood to any extent and they can reach the size of a small grape.

Tick species and where they are found

In the UK

The species of tick most likely to infest dogs in the UK is Ixodes ricinus.  It is found in woodland and rough upland regions and is well known in deer parks. The immature stages of this tick often infest small mammals or birds, but the adult stages tend to attach to larger animals such as deer, sheep or dogs.

In parks and urban environments it is often the hedgehog tick, Ixodes hexagonus that is found on dogs and cats. As its name suggests, it is related to the sheep tick and it is a specialised skill to tell the two species apart.

In Europe

Dermacentor reticulatus is the so-called ornate tick; its back is covered in brown and cream patterning. This tick occurs in some parts of England but is predominantly found across Continental Europe from southern Germany southwards.

Rhipicephalus sanguineus is also known as the brown dog tick.  It occurs worldwide and is found in more southern areas of Europe. It is typically associated with dogs and their accommodation. It can survive and replicate (breed) indoors in the UK.  This is of concern because from 1st January 2012 under the new Pet Travel Scheme rules there is no longer a compulsory requirement to treat cats or dogs with tick treatments before entering the UK.  This is likely to result in increased numbers of this tick entering the country and the possible wide spread establishment of tick populations principally in urban areas. 

Ixodes ricinus is common in more northern areas of Europe in particular.

Why I should I worry about ticks?

Ticks can cause localised irritation to pets and, if they are scratched off and the mouthparts left behind, small abscesses can result. 

Ticks can spread diseases such as:

Lyme Disease caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacterium can affect both people and animals.  Lyme disease causes flu like symptoms on initial infection.  Left untreated, muscles, joints, the heart and nervous system can become affected.  Lyme disease is present in the UK.

Babesiosis is carried mainly by the foreign or ‘exotic’ species of ticks. Babesia are microscopic parasites that live in red blood cells and can cause serious illness in both animals and people. In the acute form of the disease, Babesia cause sudden rupture of red blood cells resulting in a life threatening form of anaemia. In the subacute or chronic forms, animals are anaemic, lethargic and debilitated.  Diagnostic tests often show kidney and liver damage caused by Babesia.

Tick-borne diseases such as that caused by Babesia are more likely to be acquired after a tick has been attached for more than 24 hours. Daily checking for ticks and removing them promptly will greatly reduce the chance of ticks spreading tick borne diseases to your pet.

How can I tell if my pet has ticks?

Ticks attach to an animal by embedding their mouthparts into the skin. The size of a small bean, they often look like an immobile growth or wart attached to the pet. 

As they continue to suck blood, the body of the tick expands. Many owners only notice a tick when it has already been feeding for several days and has engorged to full size.

An engorged tick will often have a grey or brown body, larval stages (hardly ever seen) or ticks that are not yet engorged look lighter in colour, sometimes white.

Ticks commonly attach to an animal’s head and legs but they can be found anywhere on an animal’s body.

What should I do if I find a tick on my pet?

Use a proprietary ‘tick remover’ that enables the tick to be removed without the embedded mouth parts being left behind to cause a small abscess. It is a good idea to have one of these tick removers as part of a first aid box for your pet. Alternatively contact your local branch of Cinque Ports Vets and your veterinary nurse will be happy to remove them for you.

Tick control

Check your pet on a daily basis for ticks and remove them before they have been attached for any length of time. 

Consider using a tick control product on a regular basis to reduce the number of ticks that can establish a hold on your pet and to reduce the chances of any ticks that do attach from spreading tick-borne diseases.

A vaccine is available for dogs to help protect against Lyme Disease which is transmitted by the Ixodes species of ticks. A primary vaccine course of two injections would be required followed by annual boosters. Please contact us for more information.

Please note that some tick control products can be toxic to cats therefore please talk to your vet about using regular tick control products to ensure they are used correctly and safely and part of a parasite control programme tailored to the individual pet and its specific lifestyle factors.

‘Ticks And How To Prevent Them’

Please see ‘Travelling with Your Pet’ in our Information sheets for more guidance on parasite control abroad.

Useful links:
Lyme Disease

ESCCAP Leaflet – Ticks

Fleas And Flea Control

What are fleas?

Fleas are small blood sucking insects that live on cats, dogs, hedgehogs, rabbits and various other species of wildlife. The adult fleas lay eggs that fall out of your pet’s coat into their environment-your carpets, bedding, and furniture. One flea can lay up to 50 eggs a day! The eggs hatch out and release larvae which feed and then pupate. Pupae can remain dormant for many months, eventually hatching (stimulated by vibration, carbon dioxide and warmth) into young adults.  95% of the flea life cycle occurs in the environment – the fleas you see on your pet are therefore just ‘the tip of the iceberg’.

What problems do fleas cause?

The major sign of flea infestation is scratching. There are other causes of scratching but fleas are the most common cause that we encounter.

A number of pets develop an allergic reaction to the saliva of the flea bite and become hypersensitive. Just one bite can trigger severe skin disease in these individuals. Typically dogs persistently nibble over their back and rump and will eventually lose their hair. Cats tend to develop a scabby reaction along their back and neck called miliary eczema.

Excessive grooming and nibbling causes loss of hair over their back and groin. 

Severe flea infestations in puppies and kittens can cause blood loss and anaemia.

Fleas are involved in the transmission of tapeworms.   

‘Fleas And Tapeworm’

Can fleas infest humans?

Ctenocephalides felis (cat flea) is the most common type of flea found on both cats and dogs. They will bite humans, but they will not survive and stay on us – they much prefer our pets!

How do you treat and control fleas?

This has to be considered a two-pronged attack:

1. Killing the adult fleas on your pet

2. Dealing with eggs, larvae and pupae in the environment.

How to get rid of a flea infestation

  • Correctly apply a pipette of your veterinary supplied ‘spot on’ treatment to all the dogs and cats in your home. You must make sure you use the correct size for each of your pet’s weight. This will kill any adult fleas on your pet within 24 hours. It will also kill any more that jump on and sterilise their eggs so they don’t hatch.
  • Vacuum your home thoroughly moving all the furniture, even if you have wooden or laminate flooring. This removes some but NOT ALL of the eggs, larvae and pupae.
  • Wash all your pets bedding at 60°C to kill any of the immature stages.
  • Thoroughly spray all floor space in your home with a veterinary recommended household insecticidal spray. Remember to do everywhere your pet goes including the car. This kills flea eggs and larvae in your home but it DOES NOT kill the pupae.
  • There is no product available which kills pupae so you must encourage the pupae to hatch out so they will jump onto your pet and be killed by the ‘spot on’ treatment. To do this you must provide warmth, vibration and humidity by turning up the heating and vacuuming to generate warmth and vibration.
  • Continue to let your pets have their usual run of the house to allow the new adult fleas to jump onto your pet and be killed.
  • Continue vacuuming and treatment with a ‘spot on’ product all year round for all your pets as it can take several months to remove a flea infestation from your home.

A common reason for disappointing results when using ‘spot on’ treatments on your pets is that the fleas in the environment are not dealt with. There is a vast array of veterinary supplied spot-on and spray products which are safe and effective to use on your pet and in the environment.

Another reason we see animals with fleas is due to ineffective treatment.  While some other products available elsewhere may be cheaper, they are often not effective or cause reactions.  All our products are safe, easy to use and effective so you will save yourself money in the long run by using the right product the first time.

If you are unsure on what treatment is best for your pet, then please feel free to come and talk to your receptionist, veterinary nurse or veterinary surgeon at your local branch of Cinque Ports Vets. We will be able to advise you on the best products for your situation.

Useful links:

ESCCAP Leaflet – Fleas

ESCCAP Leaflet – Are you at risk from parasites?

Hookworms, Whipworms and Heartworms

Hookworms are not a major problem in the UK although they can occur occasionally. The larvae burrow into your pet’s skin usually through their feet or they are ingested by pets cleaning their paws. Puppies and kittens can be infected via their mother’s milk. Cats can get hookworm from contaminated soil or infected rodents. The hookworm live off your pet’s blood and can cause diarrhoea, lethargy and weight loss. Despite being very small, they suck large amounts of blood from the tiny vessels in your pet’s intestinal wall and can cause anaemia in large numbers.  Infection in humans is very rare, but may cause skin disease where they try and penetrate the skin.


Whipworms eggs are shed into the environment in the faeces of infected dogs. The worms live in the large intestine of your dog where they cause severe irritation to their intestinal lining. This results in watery, bloody diarrhoea, weight loss and general ill health.  They can be very harmful in large numbers. They are not infectious to people.   Most of the broad-spectrum worm remedies available from your veterinary practice are effective against hookworms and whipworms.  Control and prevention is the same as for roundworms and tapeworms. 

Heartworm live in the arteries and hearts of infected animals. They release larvae into their hosts’ bloodstream. When a mosquito feeds on the infected animal the larvae present in the blood are swallowed by the mosquito. These larvae are then passed via their saliva to the next animal they feed from, for example your dog or cat. As a mosquito is required for the lifecycle to be completed dogs and cats in this country are at little risk of   contracting heartworm. Mosquitos easily spread heartworm and you should consider this risk when thinking of travelling with your pet. The risk of heartworm varies depending on where you intend to travel. As heartworm infection can be fatal please consult your veterinary surgeon before travelling with your pet as there are products available to help prevent heartworm.

Cinque Ports Vets run Travel Clinics to help offer advice on protecting your pet from parasites when travelling abroad. Dogs in particular are affected and signs can take months to develop. These include, excessive panting, weight loss, difficulty breathing, being easily tired following exercise and death if left untreated. To check which parasites your pet may be exposed to, log on to www.esccapuk.org.uk and under the ‘Travelling Pets’ section you will find European parasite distribution maps. These maps are designed to help inform you of the parasitic threats present in different countries.

Cat Worming – Roundworms and Tapeworms

What are worms?

The two types of worms that commonly affect your dog and cat are roundworms (Toxocara) and tapeworms. The most common type of tapeworm is Dipylidium caninum. However there are other types of worms called lungworms, hookworms and whipworms that can also infect our pets and so treatment and prevention of these is also important.


As their name implies, these are worms which have round bodies.  They are the most common intestinal worm in dogs and cats and they are present in most puppies and kittens. The worms consume partially digested food in the intestines of our pets and produce microscopic eggs which are then passed in our pet’s faeces. Puppies and kittens with roundworms may expel whole worms as well as eggs into their faeces when young.

How does my pet get roundworms?

Infected animals pass roundworms eggs into the environment from their faeces. Even after the faeces has disappeared the eggs can survive in the environment for up to 3 years. Dogs and cats snuffling in the grass will swallow these eggs and become infected. They will also become infected from eating infected rodents. Once the eggs have been ingested they develop into adult worms inside your pet which then shed more eggs into the environment and the cycle continues.  Puppies and kittens may already be infected before birth from their mother or via their mother’s milk during nursing.

What problems do roundworms cause?

Large numbers can cause weight loss and a pot-bellied appearance to puppies and kittens and weakness or general ill health in adults.  Decreased appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea may be seen. If there are too many worms in the bowel of a puppy or kitten, they can cause a blockage and consequently death. Roundworms are harmful to people and children are at particular risk if infected.  A variety of organs may be affected but the main danger is if the larvae migrate to the eye where they can cause blindness.

How do you treat and prevent roundworms?

Regular worming stops your pet from shedding eggs into the environment, helping to reduce the risks of other people and pets becoming infected. It is very important to implement a strict worming program for your pet even if there are no signs of infestation. We advise worming every two weeks until they are twelve weeks of age and then once every three months on a regular basis for life with a multiwormer.  The wormers we use at the veterinary surgery are broad spectrum and will generally treat all types of worms.  Often supermarket or pet shop wormers will only cover one or two types of worms and therefore if your pet is infected with a different type of worm then the treatment will not be effective.

Other ways you can protect your pets are:

Making sure as a responsible pet owner that you clear up your pet’s faeces and discourage dogs from toileting in areas normally used by children. The eggs are often highly resistant to most common disinfectants and to harsh environmental conditions so removal of faeces is the most effective means of preventing reinfection.

Good hygiene routines are very important for example washing your pet’s bedding and feeding bowls regularly. It is also important to wash our hands and educate children to wash theirs after playing with animals and not to let dogs lick faces.

Pregnant dogs should be wormed in late pregnancy. This will help to reduce potential contamination of the environment for the puppies. All new puppies should be treated by 2 –3 weeks of age and then as mentioned previously.


These worms live in the small intestine of our pets attaching themselves to the wall by hook-like mouthparts.  They can reach up to 20cm in length and are made up of many small segments carrying eggs. As the worm matures these break off and pass into your pet’s faeces.  Sometimes these rice-like segments can be seen crawling near your pet’s anus or on the surface of their faeces.

How does my pet get tapeworms?

Infected animals pass tapeworm eggs into the environment from their faeces, where they survive for up to a year. Tapeworm eggs can also be eaten by fleas where the eggs continue development. The fleas are then ingested when your pet grooms themselves and the flea is swallowed.  As the flea is digested in their intestines, the tapeworm hatches and anchors itself to their intestinal lining. Tapeworm eggs can also be swallowed by sheep, cattle or rabbits as they graze and if pets are allowed to feed on their carcasses they may become infected.

What problems do tapeworms cause?

Segments from the worm can cause irritation around your pet’s anal area and this can lead to ‘scooting’ along the ground. In large numbers they may cause debilitation and general ill health.   Occasionally if a tapeworm loses its attachment in their intestines it may move into your pet’s stomach and can then be vomited up. Tapeworms are infectious to people although it is quite rare. A flea must be ingested for humans to become infected with the most common type of tapeworm.  Therefore flea control is the best way to prevent human infection. One less common group of tapeworms called Echinococcus (hydatids) is a particular threat to human health and can cause serious disease when humans are infected.  Sheep and humans are the final host. This disease only occurs in particular areas of the UK, mainly large rural farming areas such as Wales.

How do you treat and prevent tapeworm?

Treatment is often the same preparation that is also effective against roundworms.  Hygiene and other precautions as explained before with roundworms are also required. In particular effective control of fleas is important in the management and prevention of tapeworms. Flea control involves treatment of your pets, the indoor environment and any outdoor environment where your pets may reside.  If your pet lives in a flea-infested environment, reinfection may occur in as little as two weeks.  As veterinary supplied medication is very effective, return of the tapeworms is almost always due to reinfection of the environment not failure of the product.

Please click on the video below to watch a video on ‘How Profender Works.’

Useful links:

ESCCAP Leaflet – Are you at risk from parasites?