Ticks are a life-threatening hazard for pets in Hong Kong. They are usually found in country parks and places with heavy vegetation, but these parasites also lurk in the city's urban areas and parks where other animals have been. While fleas alert pet owners of their presence (both owners and pets will soon be scratching flea bites), tick-related diseases and their symptoms may take weeks to appear. And many owners do not know their pets are suffering from a debilitating disease until it is too late. Dr Jane Gray, deputy director of veterinary services at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, warns that tick bites can be fatal. 'While fleas aren't good news, if I could choose between fleas or ticks, I'd choose fleas because they don't tend to be life threatening,' she says. 'Some cases can be very acute, while others can take a few weeks to develop.' Gray sees about one canine case of tick fever a day in the summer. Some dogs may seem lethargic, depressed and constantly want to sleep. They will not exercise as much as normal, have whitish not pink-coloured gums, and their urine turns from pale yellow to tea-coloured. In severe cases, the animal will collapse. Cases of tick fever in cats are 'pretty low' because most live indoors, she says. Gray says some pet owners will use flea and tick control products such as Preventic tick collars in areas where ticks are prevalent. 'Preventic is a compound that kills ticks not fleas. You need Frontline or Advantage [products for fleas], in addition to the tick collar,' she says. Gray says the collar has a chemical that kills ticks and makes them drop off the animal. If a tick lands on your pet and bites the skin it can cause tick fever, which is a group of blood-borne diseases. The presence of the tick can trigger skin disease through irritation. And, during the feeding mechanism, the tick can introduce microscopic organisms into your pet's blood which can cause systemic disease. Two main types of parasites enter the bloodstream: ehrlichia parasites which attack the platelets (small cells in the blood stream which are involved in clotting); and babesia parasites which can destroy red blood cells and lead to anaemia. For the Ehrlichia parasite, Gray advises to look for bruising, nose bleeds, blood in the urine or haemorrhaging in the gums because the blood is not clotting properly. 'The animals can become very sick and even die. So it's important to prevent ticks from getting near your dog,' Gray says. 'Tick fever is possible to treat, but not all dogs respond to it. Some will be given blood transfusions and medication, which is very strong and can be dangerous. The medicine is quite toxic to the animal and the treatment isn't without risk. 'Sometimes dogs seem to get better, then they have a relapse,' she says. 'It's difficult to remove ticks completely from the [animal's] body. You need a collar to prevent re-infection.' Other signs of tick fever are panting and breathing difficulties, weight loss, vomiting and a painful abdomen due to an enlarged spleen. Common tick fever areas include Sai Kung, Clear Water Bay and outlying islands such as Lantau, Cheung Chau and country parks. 'You need to be careful everywhere. Any dog taken for a walk needs tick and flea control,' she says. 'For an animal that goes to a country park every day, it will need a heavier amount of control. 'For Wan Chai the risk is lower, so the medication would be lower too. You need to talk to the vet and get their opinion.' Treatment for tick fever can take one to two months, depending on the severity of the disease. Gray says some dogs respond quickly with one or two injections or a course of antibiotics specifically targeting ehrlichia parasites, while others involve numerous veterinary checks and, possibly, hospitalisation. She says, 'It's not a cheap disease. Something like a blood transfusion can cost several thousand dollars. So if you can stop [tick-borne diseases] from happening you should. 'And it's a lot cheaper to get a collar.'