UK canines are posing an infectious danger to their owners
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can cause serious health issues which include:
Pain and swelling in the joints (inflammatory arthritis).
Nervous system impairment (numbness, pain in the limbs, facial paralysis and loss of memory or concentration).
Heart conditions (inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) or the sac surrounding the heart (pericarditis) and even heart failure.
Inflammation of the brain membrane and spinal cord (meningitis).
These symptoms can be mild or chronic depending on the patient and the severity of the infection, in extreme cases they can be fatal.
Although the symptoms can be treated with antibiotics, infections are difficult to diagnose and become more destructive and difficult to treat if not identified early.
The disease is exclusively caused by the bite of a tiny, spider-like insect called a tick which feeds on the blood of birds and mammals by biting and attaching itself to the skin of its host victim.
These insects can be found in woodland throughout the UK, Europe and North America.
They cannot fly or leap but attach themselves to a host that brushes against them.
Sheep have traditionally been the main sufferers and source of tick infections, a fact of which farmers have been well aware for centuries, but any warm blooded animal will provide an opportunity.
Not all ticks carry the infection and, fortunately for us, the ticks that are indigenous to the British Isles tend to be less prone to infection than their American or European counterparts.
Nonetheless between 2,000 and 3,000 new cases of Lyme disease are reported every year in the UK of which 85% are caught while in the UK.
The bad news, however, is that recent changes in weather patterns seem to be causing them to spread and they are becoming more likely to be found on domestic pets, particularly dogs.
In a study led by Bristol University vets were asked to routinely check dogs brought to their surgeries for any other reason.
Over 15,000 dogs across the UK were screened for ticks which were found in over 30% of them.
These included animals from all over the UK including rural and urban areas although the highest levels of infection were found in the South West, East Anglia and Scotland.
The actual number of ticks in the country is estimated to have expanded by 17% in the past ten years and their feeding patterns have changed to start earlier and end later in the year than usual.
Dog owners have been asked to be more aware of the problem and be vigilant about their own pets.
You can check a dog for ticks by feeling their skin for lumps; if you find one, part the fur and you should be able to see an attached tick with the naked eye.
Veterinary experts warn against burning, cutting or pulling the tick off directly as this can leave parts if the mouth and head attached which will cause infection.
Specially designed tools are available from all pet stores and veterinary surgeries.
The longer a tick remains attached, the more likely an infection will occur, so prompt action is vital.
If you think you have been bitten by a tick there is every likelihood that you will not be infected but you should inform your doctor and ask for advice.
More information is available from Lyme Disease Action
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