Thanks to climate changes – ticks making us happy all year around

09. June 2021 — von Daniela Diepold

Climate change brings rising temperatures and humidity – the very environmental changes that improve the living conditions of most disease carriers. Ticks, for example, are the winners from climate change. Ticks are spreading more and more all over Germany, and we can find them very much active all year around now.

Ticks are nasty parasites. They attack dogs, cats and humans, sucking their blood. The tick sucks blood for 2 to 10 days, depending on its stage of development. What makes ticks dangerous is their role as carriers of pathogens such as bacteria or viruses. In Europe, dogs are most often attacked by ticks of the Ixodidae family (so-called shield ticks), which can be carriers of Lyme disease and anaplasmosis.

The caster bean tick

Many pet owners are already well familiar with the caster bean tick (ixodes ricinus), which is probably the most well-known tick in Germany. However, a current study has now concluded that the so-called dermacentor (dermacentor reticulatus) is becoming increasingly common in this country. The ornate cow tick, also known as the meadow or marsh tick, has likewise conquered almost all of Germany in the past 50 years.

Study based on tick findings

A study led by Professor Dr. Christina Strube from the Institute of Parasitology of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover set out to analyse the spread of the caster bean tick in Germany. Veterinarians and animal owners were asked to send in the specimens they found, together with where they found them. The dermacentor can be recognised by its typical marbling. Outside of its host, it feels particularly at home in meadows and green strips of land, as well as the zones at the edge of the forest.

The dermacentor – a danger for the dog

The dermacentor is considered relatively harmless for humans. Although it can carry pathogens, such as the early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE) virus or rickettsia, the dermacentor rarely stings people and the risk of infection is correspondingly low. Instead, the main host of the dermacentor Is the dog, for whom this bloodsucker is not only a nuisance, but can, under certain circumstances, even be life-threatening. This is because of this tick can carry babesia, single-cell parasites that attack and destroy the red blood cells. If left untreated, dogs die from babesiosis.

Tick protection is necessary all year around

Of course, not every contact with a tick automatically leads to babesiosis, especially since dog babesiosis in Germany is still rare and is only found in certain regions. Nevertheless, due to the widespread distribution of the dermacentor and how little we know about the occurrence of babesia, it is advisable to protect dogs against a bite with effective antiparasitic drugs – especially in the winter months. In contrast to the caster bean tick, which usually stops being active when temperatures fall below 7°C, the dermacentor is not stopped by lower temperatures (even of 4°C) and ground frost.

Targeted prevention

The risk of a tick bite, and thereby of disease, depends on a number of risk factors. The most important thing is staying in the open air, which is why hunting dogs are particularly at risk. When hunting, they come into contact with wild animals, which are often infested with ticks. It is therefore advisable to use an appropriate tick protection product properly and consistently on all dogs that spend time in nature.

Drehmann M et al. The spatial distribution of Dermacentor ticks (Ixodidae) in Germany – Evidence of a continuing spread of Dermacentor reticulatus. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 7 (2020): 578220.