An epidemic of blood-sucking ticks may hit Britain this summer after the mild, wet winter gave them perfect breeding conditions.
The countryside has become home to growing numbers of the bugs, which spread the potentially deadly Lyme disease, zoology experts have warned.
Prof Richard Wall, of Bristol University, said ticks lurked in woods and grassland and posed “a considerable threat” – especially to dog walkers.
He added: “Ticks are most commonly found in woodland and long grass areas that are regularly used by dog walkers.
“Climate change can certainly be blamed for the 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.”
The arachnid parasites, which are about 3mm long, feed on mammals and birds.
Their numbers have surged in the UK during the past 20 years and Prof Wall estimated there were now up to 20 ticks in every square metre of woodland.
But he warned the creatures were becoming such a threat they could spread to parks in towns and cities.
He urged dog owners to check themselves and their pets after every walk and added: “Ticks are often found tucked up in creases of the body – the armpits 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 out.”
Prof Wall, who heads Europe’s leading centre for research into veterinary ectoparasites, and fellow experts, Paul Sands, a specialist veterinary dermatologist from the Pride Veterinary Hospital in Derbyshire, and veterinary advisor Renata Turlej, will host a live broadcast tomorrow night with staff and pets from Bristol’s Highcroft Veterinary Practice.
The team will be demonstrating how to check for ticks and telling pet owners what they can do to combat the problem.
The show marks 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.
The broadcast begins at 8:30pm and can be viewed by visiting www.mypetonline.co.uk , where pet owners can also download a voucher for a free flea check.
Anyone struggling to remove a tick should see their doctor or take their pet to a vet.
Nasty infection starts with bite
A tick can feed for days before dropping off and the longer it stays, the greater the risk of Lyme disease.
The infection usually starts with a rash around the bite. If untreated, unpleasant symptoms can develop later including muscle or joint pain and even facial paralysis.
There are 3,000 cases in England and Wales each year.
It is treated with antibiotics but is best prevented by using insect repellent and covering up to avoid bites.