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Dog owners are being warned about a deadly tick-borne disease that has been found in the UK for the first time.
Government health agencies are investigating how the condition canine babesiosis affected four dogs that have never travelled outside England.
One dog is reported to have died of the disease, and the others have been taken seriously ill.
The outbreak has been traced to an area of Harlow in Essex, but it is feared the disease could spread elsewhere, despite measures to contain it.
Babesiosis attacks the blood cells of dogs. The symptoms include fever, lethargy, pale gums and general weakness, and if left untreated it can be fatal.
Vets have needed to perform emergency blood transfusions to combat the disease.
Harlow Council said: “It is important that dog owners have their pets protected with anti-tick treatment and regularly check their dogs for ticks. Further advice is available from local vets.”
Councillor Mark Wilkinson said the area was popular with dog walkers, and added that the the alert was “purely precautionary”.
“Further tests are going to be carried out on the land once the weather improves, and if necessary further advice will be issued,” he said.
“The council is also in contact with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and is seeking any further advice from them.”
The website PetMD.com advises owners to do a thorough body check of their dog to find ticks, which are visible to the naked eye but can be drawn to dark, hidden areas of the animal’s body such as ears, groin and between the toes.
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Signs of ticks include dogs excessively scratching or licking a particular area.
To remove a tick, owners are advised to use tweezers to grip the tick by the head and pull it straight out, and not to twist, burn or apply anything to the skin.
The tick can be killed once it has been removed by putting it in a small amount of alcohol, rather than squashing it.
There are concerns the tick could also be carried by wild animals.
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