Ticks on dogs and cats: a pet owner-based survey in a rural town in northeastern Switzerland.
Changes in the endemic foci of tick populations and invasions of tick species to new areas have become evident in Europe, leading to changes in the epidemiology of tick-transmitted diseases. However, data about tick infestations of pet animals are limited. Following the recent identification of a new focus of canine babesiosis in northeastern Switzerland, we investigated the occurrence of tick vectors in this region by using a pet owner-based sampling strategy. All dog owners in a rural town were sent postal requests to send ticks from their dogs and cats over two consecutive years, beginning in April 2012. In total 3003 ticks were submitted for identification from 249 dogs (approximately 20% of the resident dog population) and from 117 cats. Ixodes ricinus was the most abundant species identified in 96.8% (n=2124) and 74.3% (n=601) of the individual samples submitted from dogs and cats, respectively. Two other tick species, I. hexagonus and Dermacentor reticulatus, were recorded on both host species, with host infestation prevalences below 2%. On cats (but not on dogs), as many as 24.0% (n=194) of the specimens were identified as a fourth tick species, I. trianguliceps. Overall, 93.5% of the ticks were adults (93.8% and 93.0% in dogs and cats), 4.4% nymphs (5.7% in dogs and 1% in cats) and 2% larvae (0.5% and 6.0% in dogs and cats), respectively. The highest infestation intensity was 49 I. ricinus ticks from an individual dog. However, 55.6% of the submissions from dogs and 24.8% from cats contained only one tick. This survey demonstrated that pet owners can contribute to a cost-effective tick surveillance and identified a new tick focus of D. reticulatus. The finding of I. trianguliceps exclusively on cats might be related to behavioural traits of the cats or to a more readily detection of these very small ticks during petting by their owners.