Early spring season start for ticks

Tuesday, 27 February 2024

APHA are warning vets and farmers that the current warm weather may contribute to an increase in early spring tick activity. Consider the possibility of tick-borne diseases when examining sick livestock.

Tick bites can cause significant health problems for cattle and sheep.

Infections (protozoan and bacterial) transmitted via tick bites can lead to severe, and sometimes fatal, diseases. They can also result in hypersensitivity due to irritation and inflammation at bite sites.

Tick activity has two seasonal peaks: one in spring and the other in late summer/autumn.

Clinical signs of common tick-borne diseases

Louping ill

  • High temperature
  • Lack of appetite
  • Muscular trembling
  • Unsteadiness
  • Seizure
  • Frequently fatal in sheep

Tick-borne fever

  • Abortion in naïve pregnant cattle and sheep
  • High temperature
  • Anorexia
  • Immune suppression leading to secondary infections

Redwater fever (bovine babesiosis)

  • Increased temperature
  • Diarrhoea then constipation
  • Red urine
  • Abortion in pregnant cattle

Tick pyaemia (affects lambs up to 12 weeks of age)

  • Weakness
  • Abscesses in tendons, joints, muscles and brain
  • Lameness
  • Paralysis 

Habitat, diagnosis and control

Ticks prefer thick, dense vegetation, and as a result are generally found in rough hill ground, forestry and heathland habitats. However, their geographical range is expanding for several environmental reasons, including climate change.

Do not underestimate the importance of accurate diagnosis, as treatment and control options may differ depending on the infection. You can obtain a diagnosis through blood sampling or a post-mortem.

Careful exposure of animals can play an important role in disease prevention through immunity, with tick-control products being used strategically to strike a balance between the development of immunity and disease.

Speak to your vet or animal health advisor for advice and develop a tick control plan tailored to your specific farm’s needs. This will ensure the correct control product selection is used only when needed and is timed appropriately.

For further information on ticks, visit the Sustainable Control of Parasites (SCOPS) and Control of Worms Sustainably (COWS) websites.

Learn more about ticks on the SCOPS website

Learn more about the control of ectoparasites of cattle on the COWS technical manual (pages 7–8)