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Deadly tick-borne disease that has killed a dog expected to spread across UK

by Shake Paws

A relaxation in European pet travel restrictions is being blamed for the first recorded outbreak in the UK of a tick-borne disease that can kill dogs

Demacentor occidentalisThe deadly disease, babesiosis, is borne by ticks. Licence: CC BY 2.0

Four dogs that have never travelled outside the UK have contracted the tick-borne disease babesiosis in an outbreak that is so far confined to Harlow in Essex. Experts have blamed the relaxation in the rules governing the import of dogs to the UK from the continent. One of the dogs has since died.

Prior to January 2012, it was compulsory for imported dogs to be treated for ticks before entering the UK and Ireland, but that requirement was dropped to comply with EU regulations.

Professor Richard Wall of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, who is leading a major project to study tick-borne disease, said the outbreak was “a major concern for animal health’.

TV naturalist and dog owner Chris Packham, who launched the project in spring 2015, said its significance has increased over the past year: “The Big Tick Project is an important study and we are grateful to all the veterinary teams and pet owners whose animals had ticks removed on a visit to the surgery and have taken part in the survey.

“When we launched the study last year, I was struck by the experiences of the people and animals who have suffered the misfortune of contracting Lyme disease which is a horrible infection which can do lasting damage to its victims – both people and animals. The discovery of cases of Babesia canis for the first time in dogs that have not travelled outside the UK is very worrying indeed and underlines the need for greater awareness of the need to protect our pets from ticks.”

Bristol University’s Big Tick project is examining thousands of animal ticks sent in by veterinary practices following a TV appeal by Packham.

The results of the project are not due till July, but, speaking to BBC4 Radio’s Today programme, Packham said that preliminary results suggested tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and babesiosis widespread: “At the moment the indications are that the presence of these pathogens is widespread across the country.”

There is no vaccine against the disease available in the UK. Instead, owners are advised to check their dogs’s fur, remove any ticks they find and routinely use anti-tick medications.