Experts are warning a winter of floods have left the West Country facing a plague of ticks.
According to experts the mild, damp conditions have provided the perfect breeding ground for the parasites.
As the weather warms up the UK could be overwhelmed by the tiny creatures, putting pets at risk and spreading deadly bugs like Lyme disease.
The warning was delivered by Richard Wall, Professor of Zoology at Bristol University. He estimates that as many as 20 ticks may be lurking in each square metre of British woodland. The tiny arachnids live off the blood of birds and mammals and tend to flourish more in countries with warm, humid climates.
But Professor Wall says the number of ticks has soared in Britain over the last two decades because of our warmer winters and wetter summers.
The professor, who heads Europe’s leading centre for research into veterinary ectoparasites, said: “Ticks are most commonly found in woodland and long grass areas that are regularly used by dog walkers. Climate change has certainly been blamed for their increase as the warmer and damper weather provides a good environment for ticks.
“Another reason for the rise is the increase in deer as ticks feed on deer. They pose a considerable threat as they pass on many diseases, such as babesiosis in dogs and Lyme disease in humans.”
He said the tick problem could become so bad that the creatures will migrate to parks and urban spaces, infesting towns and cities.
He urged pet owners to check their cats and dogs for fleas and ticks to ensure their animals were free of the parasites.
Ticks can spread a terrifying array of diseases, including the bacterial infection Lyme Disease which can be fatal to both humans and dogs.
Some of the rarer illnesses passed on by the insects include Q fever, Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, African tick bite fever, tularemia, tick-borne relapsing fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, tick paralysis, and tick-borne meningoencephalitis.
Professor Wall said: “It’s important people check both their dog and themselves after a walk. Ticks are often found tucked up in creases of the body, so the arm pits or behind the ears. The best way to remove them is to use tweezers and put them close to the skin and press and twist them out. If people are struggling to remove the tick they should take their pet to the vets right away.”
Professor Wall and fellow experts, Paul Sands, a specialist veterinary dermatologist from the Pride Veterinary Hospital in Derbyshire, and veterinary advisor Renata Turlej, were expected to host a live broadcast last night with staff and pets from Bristol’s Highcroft Veterinary Practice.
The team were due to be demonstrating how to check for ticks and telling pet owners what they can do to combat the problem.
The show marked the launch of MyPetonline’s Big Flea Guarantee, a campaign set to run this summer with vet practices across the country offering free flea and tick checks and advice. A recording of the broadcast can be viewed at www.mypetonline.co.uk , where pet owners can also download a voucher for a free flea check.