What Every Dog Owner Needs to Know About Ticks

Ticks reside in damp, dark places in weeds, grasses, and landscaping as they await their next host.  Many of these ticks are looking for our favorite four-legged friends who love to roll, run, lie, and sleep in the grass.  When ticks are successful at attaching themselves to your dog, they will then begin feeding off their blood, which can have harmful health effects on your best bud.

Because of the risks and health concerns that ticks bring to their hosts, you will want to act quickly to prevent, inspect, and remove ticks from your dog anytime they could be exposed to a tick.  Tick and flea prevention is essential in repelling these insects from burrowing in your dog’s skin and causing issues like irritations, illnesses, lethargy, and even lameness.

As a dog owner, it is important that you understand how to prevent ticks and treat your dog for ticks after an exposure.  Here are a few commonly asked questions that will provide you with all the important information you need to protect your dog from the threat of ticks.

Where can my dog get ticks?

Ticks live everyone, from your backyard to the dog park.  These insects live in dark, moist areas low to the ground, in shrubs, grasses, and bushes, until they find a host to feed on.  When your dog walks past, a tick can jump onto their skin and latch on to start feeding.  Heavily wooded areas and tall grasslands are two places where your dog is at high risk for tick exposure.  When you go on long hikes or off-path adventures, you should thoroughly check your dog for ticks.

How can I prevent my dog from getting ticks?

  1. Flea and tick prevention treatments

Using flea and tick prevention treatments on a regular basis is one of the best lines of defense to keep your dog safe from these insects.  Also, taking the time to comb through their fur after a fun adventure outside is another great way to make sure there are no ticks on your dog. 

There are multiple types of flea and tick prevention treatments that may appeal to you, such as:

Talk to your vet about the flea and tick treatment that would best suit your dog.  If you notice any side effects once you begin your course of treatment, bring them to your vet’s attention so that you can try out a different preventative treatment.

  1. Routine brushing and grooming

When your dog is brushed and groomed on a routine basis, they will be properly checked and cleaned.  Grooming requires brushing out knots, washing the skin and fur, brushing, and blow drying, which can increase the likelihood that a bump or irritation be noticed.  You may even want to ask your groomer to use a special tick prevention shampoo to add additional protection during the months where the tick activity is higher.

  1. Thorough checks for ticks

Although grooming and brush your dog are important to preventing ticks, it is also essential to perform thorough checks after you come inside from a walk or outdoor play session.  Checking your dog for ticks is the best line of defense in noticing ticks quickly and removing them before they burrow deep into your dog’s skin.

How do I check my dog for ticks?

Even if your dog is on a tick prevention treatment, you should always check them for ticks anytime you spend time outdoors.  The best way to prevent any diseases or side effects is to locate and remove the tick as soon as possible.   To check your dog for ticks, you will want to do more than just run your hands through their fur.  Perform a thorough inspection, use a flea and tick comb, and part their fur to look everywhere.

These are three signs that your dog may have a tick:

  1. Small, firm lumps — When ticks bury their heads in your dog’s skin, they leave their other half poking out.
  2. Red, irritated skin — After a tick latches onto its host, the skin around the attachment site will be red, irritated, and inflamed.
  3. Scratchy or itchy spots — If you notice your dog scratching or itching at a particular spot, they could be alerting you to a tick.

Don’t forget to look all over your dog’s entire body, as ticks will try to find the dark, moist places that are easily concealed or difficult to search. 

These places include:

  • Around their ears
  • Around the eyes and on the eyelids
  • Under the front legs
  • Between their toes
  • Inside their back legs and in the groin area
  • Under their collar

As a tick continues to feed on your dog’s blood, they will grow in size.  Ticks can grow up to the size of a pea if left undetected.  When the tick grows in size, it will become easier to detect, but it can also be more harmful to your dog.  Thorough checks are critical in preventing any harm or disease.

What happens when I find a tick on my dog?

Removing a tick from your dog’s skin can be difficult, as you want to be cautious not to leave the tick’s head buried in the skin.  With its round bottom poking out, it will seem easy to grab and pull, but you need to take your time and follow the right steps to fully remove the tick.

  1. First, put on a pair of rubber gloves. This will protect you from any potential injury or infection from the tick or the bloodied area.
  2. Second, use a pair of fine-tip tweezers or “tick twister” and grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. Keep a firm and steady hand while you do this.  If you need to, ask a friend or family member to hold your dog still to prevent mistakes or injury.
  3. Third, pull the tick away from the body. Be sure to keep your hand steady and your grip firm to prevent leaving behind any part of the tick’s body.  Also, do not crush the tick’s body on your dog’s skin, as this can lead to infection.
  4. Fourth, place the tick in rubbing alcohol to kill it. This will properly dispose of the tick and prevent it from jumping onto another host, like you, other pets, or anyone else in the house. 
  5. Lastly, dispose of your gloves and wash your hands.

Removing a tick may seem tricky, but by following the right steps, you can take care of it yourself.  If you are uncomfortable removing a tick on your own, contact your veterinarian and they will do it for you.

What are some of the health concerns if my dog has a tick?

If your dog has a tick that you do not immediately spot, they may suffer from some dangerous side effects.  Depending on the health of your dog, the severity of the tick attack, and the health of the tick itself, these side effects can vary from mild to severe.

Signs and Symptoms of Tick Bites

If you do not visibly notice a tick right away, your dog might start to exhibit symptoms that indicate they have a tick.  These symptoms may vary, but they can include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • General weakness or lameness
  • Joint swelling
  • Itching or scratching at the site

When you notice any of these symptoms, especially in conjunction with one another, contact your veterinarian immediately.  These symptoms may indicate that your dog has been exposed to a tick-borne illness.

Tick-borne diseases:

  • Lyme Disease — Symptoms include a rash around the attachment site, fever, loss of appetite, low energy, lethargy, joint swelling, and lameness.
  • Ehrlichiosis — Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, enlarged lymph nodes, bruising, and fatigue.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever — Symptoms include stomach pain, lethargy, and vomiting.

These illnesses can become severe or even fatal if undiagnosed.  Contact your veterinarian if you notice these symptoms or spot a tick on your dog.

Protect Your Dog from the Dangers of Ticks

The best way to protect your dog from ticks is to be mindful and stay informed about the habits of ticks, the likelihood of tick exposure, and the prevention techniques to implement regularly.  By taking care of your dog and diligently checking their skin for ticks, you can prevent these insects from feeding on your furry friend.