Ticks on Dogs

Claire Dunling

Why should I be worried about ticks? Doctors will tell you that ticks are vectors of disease, namely they spread infections. Now not all ticks transmit disease but it is better to presume there is a risk and act accordingly. So if you see one you should take it seriously. Don’t panic, but get it off and the sooner the better.

Typical symptoms of an infection passed by ticks on dogs will include lethargy and fever, but they may also present with weakness, lameness and swollen joints. Frustratingly these can take a while, sometimes even months, to appear. As with any such change in your dog’s condition, get them to the vets so they can run some tests.

Testing is important as ticks can carry some seriously nasty diseases such as Lymes and Babesiosis. These can also affect humans, so it is in the whole family’s interest to get on top of ticks.

What can I do to protect my dog from ticks?

First and foremost get in the habit of inspecting your dog for ticks after a walk outside, especially if they have been in wooded areas or long grass. Obviously depending on coat length, this can be either a visual check or might need parting of longer hair to look at the skin. In an ideal world, a thorough combing within 4 to 6 hours will help stop ticks attaching themselves.

As even the best inspection can be a little hit and miss, particularly with our busy lives, the most sensible approach is to treat your dog before any ticks get picked up. These treatments usually come in the form of a spot-on and double up as flea treatments. These simply kill any ticks that should try to feed on your dog. They will also kill any ticks already on your dog usually within 48 hours.

If I find a tick on my dog what should I do?

Initially, you’ll spot a tick as a bump or lump that simply wasn’t there before. Give it a good look and you will see its body and legs, as the mouth parts will be buried in the skin. Any tick on your dog should be removed immediately, as the longer it is attached, the greater the chance for disease.

Four facts about ticks on dogs

#1 A female tick can lay up to 3,000 eggs

#2 Ticks need a blood meal to progress to the next stage of their life cycle

#3 Some ticks can live for more than a year without a meal

#4 In very rare cases, toxins secreted by ticks can cause pet paralysis

You should never directly touch a tick and always wear gloves when removing them. You should ideally use specially designed tick removers to grasp the exposed section of the tick’s body and gently twist until the tick lets go. It takes some confidence and if you’re not up to it, nip to the vets and the practice nurse will take it off for you. To dispose of the tick, wrap it in several tissues (so that it doesn’t just float on the surface) and flush it down the loo.

So what are ticks?

Ticks are members of the arachnid family, wingless creatures that live exclusively on the blood of animals. They are actually amazing little creatures who have an apparatus called Haller’s organ. This can sense heat and carbon dioxide and so tip them off that an animal food source is nearby. Once they have picked a target, they crawl on and jab their ‘teeth’ into the animal’s skin. Cunningly, tick saliva has a mild anesthetic so that the animal being bitten doesn’t notice! Once attached they begin to suck its blood.

This Ticks on Dogs post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your pet’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with your vet before starting any program or treatment.

If in doubt contact your veterinary practice

And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!