An investigation into the prevalence of ticks and tick-borne pathogens: Babesia and Borrelia in ticks infesting cats in Great Britain

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Authors

S Davies4; S Abdullah3; C Helps1; S Tasker1; H Newbury2; R Wall3
1 Molecular Diagnostic Unit, Langford Vets and School of Veterinary Sciences, University of Bristol, UK;  2 MSD Animal Health, Walton Manor, Walton, Milton Keynes, UK;  3 School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, UK;  4 University of Bristol, UK

Discussion

The number of studies investigating ticks parasitizing cats and dogs in Europe has increased in recent years. Motivation to conduct tick sample collection studies is fuelled by fears the tick population is growing, and as ticks are vectors of zoonotic diseases, higher numbers could pose a significant threat to companion animals and their owners. An investigation into ticks attaching to cats in the United Kingdom was carried out aided by the participation of voluntary veterinary practices. Between May and October of 2016, 287 veterinary practices returned 1855 questionnaires. 601 cats were reported to have one or more ticks present; after removing non-protocol samples, feline tick prevalence in the UK was 6.6%. Species identification and DNA analysis targeting Babesia spp. and Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato was carried out on 541 samples. The most frequently recorded tick was Ixodes ricinus (57.1%), followed by Ixodes hexagonus (41.1%), and lastly Ixodes trianguliceps (1.8%). Male cats between the ages of 4 and 6 living in rural villages were most likely to be carrying a tick; hair length and acaricidal treatment were observed to have no effect on the presence/absence of ticks. Babesia spp. and Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato were found in 1.1% and 1.8% of the tick samples respectively. Identified Babesia spp. included B. vulpes sp. nov. (66.7%) in I. hexagonus and B. venatorum (33.3%) in I. ricinus. Two species from the B. burgdorferi (s.l.) complex were identified: B. garinii (60%), and B. afzelii (40%). Most B. burgorferi (s.l.) cases were identified in I. ricinus, with one I. hexagonus nymph containing B. afzelii DNA. No pathogens were present in I. trianguliceps. Maps showing the distribution of all tick samples and the vector borne diseases identified were created. Ticks parasitizing cats and the resulting diseases they carry are widely distributed throughout the UK highlighting the importance of monitoring their numbers for future reference.
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