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The Big Tick Project summary

The Big Tick Project1

Dog laying outside with kittens

The Big Tick Project1

The Big Tick Project was launched in April 2015 with the aim to raise awareness about the threat tick borne diseases can be to pets and humans.

Practices were asked to examine dogs at random and send any samples to the University of Bristol. 1,461 practices responded and a staggering 6,372 ticks were sent in for examination.

In the summer of 2016 the study was replicated with cats – the results can be viewed online here. Many factors may have contributed to the increase in tick numbers, including changing weather patterns making conditions more favourable for tick survival and increasing numbers of deer, a valuable host for the UK's tick population.

Also, a lack of awareness among pet owners may also play a role – and, worryingly, 47% of owners were not aware that they too are at risk of infection from tick-borne diseases.

The results

Cat and dog sat inside together

The results

In this study nearly one in three dogs was infested with ticks (2,181 out of 7,102 dogs). This is a worrying statistic as ticks also put dogs at risk of contracting tick-borne pathogens, which can result in diseases such as Lyme and Babesiosis. Owners are at risk from ticks and the diseases they carry, particularly while out walking their dogs. The study also showed that ticks are not confined to rural areas either, with strong tick populations present in urban areas.

There are several different species of tick found in the UK; the most common found in The Big Tick Project was Ixodes ricinus, representing 89% of the ticks found on the dogs. 1,855 cats were also examined, with the most frequently recorded ticks species again being Ixodes ricinus.


Lyme disease

Wild animals, especially small rodents and deer are naturally carriers of Lyme bacteria. When a tick feeds on infected wildlife the tick picks up the bacteria, then Lyme disease is spread to dogs and cats through the bite of an infected tick.

Common symptoms include:

• Fever
• Loss of appetite
• Reduced energy
• Lameness (can be shifting, intermittent and recurring)
• Stiffness, discomfort, or pain
• Swelling of joints

Lyme disease can also affect humans if bitten by an infected tick. It can vary from no illness to severe disease, and signs may start 1 to 2 weeks after infection (the tick bite).

A small red lump may develop at the site of the bite – this may then slowly spread into a large circular ‘bull’s-eye’ type rash.

Other common symptoms include:

• Fever
• Body aches
• Stiff neck
• Headache



• Babesia is a parasite that infects red blood cells

• Infection with Babesia is called babesiosis

• The parasitic infection is usually transmitted by a tick bite

• Tick protection can be bought from the vet practice; if you suspect your pet has babesiosis, following a tick bite, contact your vet immediately

• Using a suitable product and checking animals regularly is important to avoid bites and disease


Babesia can also affect humans. Common symptoms include:

• Fatigue
• Severe headache
• Muscle aches
• Joint pain
• Abdominal pain
• Nausea
• Skin bruising
• Yellowing of skin and eyes

Map of tick risk

Map of UK indicating areas of high-low tick risk

Map of tick risk


This interactive tick map, created from The Big Tick Project results, helps to show risk in your local area.


Further information


Headshot of a ginger cat

The Big Flea Project

The Big Flea Project aimed to map the many flea species in the UK and discover the diseases they carry.

Dog and cat laying on a sofa together

Why protect against fleas?

Fleas can cause severe irritation and can lead to infection of the skin...

Cat laying on a woman's lap outside

Why protect against ticks?

In the UK, ticks can carry various germs including the bacteria that causes Lyme disease...


1. Abdullah et al. Parasites and vectors (2016) 9:391

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