Ticks on dogs – identification & treatment

As a dog owner, you are more than likely to come across a tick, or ten, in your pooch's lifetime so it's important to know how to properly remove them and the potential risks if left.

While ticks seem pointless, they do provide a big purpose in the ecosystem, providing a meal for a few wild animals but unfortunately, your dog can be a perfect feeding ground for these parasites. Here are the things you need to know about these arachnids and the diseases they carry.

What do ticks look like?

Ticks vary in shape, colour and size but they have a flattened oval-shaped body before feeding and a plump, rounded body once fed. When they’re unfed they’re the size of a sesame seed but then grow to the size of a coffee bean when engorged with their host’s blood.

Tick engorged in dog's body

When are ticks active?

Ticks are most active from March to October, but you might come across them in the winter months too. Because ticks are at risk of drying out, they prefer moist and humid environments and live in grass, bushes, shrubs and foliage.

How do ticks get on to your dog?

Ticks will rest on the tips of grasses and shrubs, waiting for a host. When a host brushes past the tick will climb onto them and either attach themselves quickly or go for a wander across their victim, looking for warmer areas or places where the fur is thinner before digging in.

Where do ticks bite?

Once you come home from a walk with your dog, it’s a good idea to check them over for ticks. It can be quite hard to find them at first because they’re so small, but if you check every day then you might eventually find a tick feeding on your pet.

Ticks can be found anywhere on your dog’s body, but they particularly like to attach themselves around their:

  • Ears
  • Head
  • Neck
  • Groin
  • Armpits
  • Feet (between the toes)

How do you remove a tick from a dog?

The trick to removing a tick is in the method as it’s important to get all of the tick out, head and all, to prevent infection and the spread of diseases.

  1. Part your dog’s fur so you can see the tick
  2. Using a tick removal tool, place the hook around the base of the tick as close to the skin as possible
  3. Twist the tick hook and lever it upwards so that the tick detaches from your dog’s body
  4. Make sure not to pull or squeeze the tick’s body as this can leave the head parts embedded in the skin which can cause infection, and it can cause the tick to regurgitate its stomach contents into the bite wound, spreading disease

You should always use a tick removal tool that helps you to avoid squeezing the tick’s body and safely helps you twist the tick off.

An owner using  tick removal tool on a dog

Do not use tweezers, petroleum jelly, chemicals or other means to take off the tick as this can result in infection, disease spread and discomfort for your pet.

Lyme disease, ticks and dogs

Unfortunately, these nasty pests carry diseases that can be transmitted to our canine companions and result in serious problems. Lyme disease is a tick-borne disease in the UK so it’s important to be able to recognise the signs.

Symptoms may include:

  • Joint pain, lameness or limping (this can shift to different legs, too)
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Discomfort or pain

In humans infected by Lyme disease, a red “bulls-eye” rash around the bite site may be found but this is not seen frequently in pets. Keep an eye out for any unusual marks, symptoms, or behaviour in your dog as signs might not appear for a few weeks after a bite.

How to prevent Lyme disease

Just like most things, prevention is better than a cure and with no vaccines available to prevent some of the tick-borne diseases then it’s important to learn the best prevention methods.

  • Speak to your vet about tick prevention products. By speaking to your vet, you’ll be able to learn which product is safe and effective for your dog. Tick prevention products mean that you won’t have to worry about your pet bringing home one of these parasites.
  • Check your pooch for ticks every day, especially if they’ve been out and about or just come in from a walk. If you find one, remove it right away using a tick hook as described above.

There are other risks and dangers for our canine companions so it’s down to us to keep our pets as safe as we can. If you would like to identify your local tick threat, then visit the Big Tick Project UK Tick Threat Interactive map.

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