Parasites are just one of those irritating things that most dogs have to deal with in their lifetime, and ticks are just one of the many types. Ticks are true pests, resembling tiny little spiders that crawl onto your dog and burrow into their skin to feed from their blood.
If you ever spot a tick, it’s essential that you remove it as soon as you notice it to prevent this irritating insect from spreading disease.
We’re here to give you our guide on ticks, what they are, what they do and what you need to do to give these bothersome bloodsuckers the boot!
Ticks are an ectoparasite, which is a parasite that resides externally on the body of its host animal, feeding from the host’s blood. Parasites need a host to feed from to survive and complete their life cycle, so they’re always on the lookout for their next target to attach themselves to.
However, they can survive for many weeks without a host if the environment is right.
There’s hundreds and hundreds of different species of tick across the world, and they’re incredibly common, so it would be a shock if your dog wasn’t to encounter one in their lifetime.
Ticks look like true creepy crawlies with their spider-like form, they’ve got 8 little legs and a greyish-brown egg-shaped body. When the tick first attaches itself to your dog, they’ll be super small and pale in colour. They’ve got sharp, piercing mouthparts that they use to secure themselves into the skin and suck out your dog’s blood.
As they continue enjoying their blood-filled feast, they will start to enlarge and darken in colour as the blood fills their body. Although all ticks are pretty tiny, they can still differ in size and shape depending on species, varying from about 1mm-1cm in size.
Due to their small size, you probably won’t notice the pesky parasite just from looking at your dog, you’re most likely to notice one when you’re giving your dog a stroke, feeling a tiny little bump on their skin. It’s easy to mistake a tick for just a random lump or a skin tag, but if you look really closely, you’ll be able to see those wriggling legs burrowing deep into the skin.
The tick will bite and feed from your dog’s blood for a few days until they’ve had enough and then they’ll drop off.
Unlike fleas, which are another common external parasite that dogs can encounter, ticks don’t fly or jump, they simply crawl or drop onto your pet from whatever they were resting on.
Ticks most commonly lounge around in long grass and woodland areas, as long, overgrown vegetation makes the perfect hiding spot for a tick. Your dog will innocently trot by, minding their own business, and then a tick will just drop off the plant and begin to enjoy their new home settled in your pooch’s furry coat.
They’re active throughout the whole year, but between the spring and autumn months they’re the most prevalent, so pooch parents need to be extra vigilant during this time. Usually, they prefer to attach to areas that are less dense with hair, so keep an eye out around the feet, groin, armpits, neck, head and inside the ears.
This goes without saying, but the main and most obvious symptom of a tick bite is the presence of the actual tick. Other than that, it’s unlikely that your dog will display any other signs.
Ticks don’t really cause itchiness, redness or swelling like flea bites do, unless your dog has an allergic reaction or they start to develop symptoms of Lyme disease. This is a disease transmitted from a tick bite, but we’ll talk more about the details of this later on.
So, since the signs of tick bites are lacking, it’s even more important for you as an owner to be on a constant lookout for ticks so you can remove them as soon as you spot one.
Tick removal actually isn’t too tricky once you know how to do it. It’s always a good idea to keep a tick removal tool in the house, so you can eliminate this pesky parasite as soon as you notice one.
You can pick these up from the vets and pet shops for cheap. Some other things that might be useful when removing a tick include:
Rubbing alcohol to clean the bite wound and dispose of the tick
Jar or container with a lid to dispose of the tick
Torch or phone light to increase visibility
An extra person to give you a hand
Tick removal tools are super handy, they’re specially designed for the easy, safe removal of the pest and are usually shaped like a hook. Or, they’ll look more like household tweezers with a hole that is specifically designed for the tick and easy removal.
Never use your fingers to try and pull the tick off, and we also wouldn’t recommend using your own tweezers either as you’re at risk or tearing the tick or leaving remnants of the body embedded into the skin.
Tearing, squeezing or crushing the tick can push the blood back into your dog’s body, which increases the chance of a disease being transmitted and makes it trickier to remove the entire tick if their body has been broken.
After the tick has been removed, it’ll need disposing of appropriately. You don’t want to just throw the bug in the bin as it won’t be dead, so you’re at risk of it crawling out and biting your dog once again.
Once the tick has been removed, either pop it into a tissue and flush it away or place it in a sealed container filled with your rubbing alcohol and dispose of it. Have your container of alcohol or tissue at the ready to dispose of the insect as soon as you’ve removed it.
So, now you’ve got your tools ready, we can get into the step-by-step guide to tick removal.
Put on your protective gloves and have your extra light ready so you can see properly and get to work. It’s best to attempt tick removal when your dog is lying down, calm and relaxed.
If your dog is a wriggler when it comes to any type of grooming, this is where you’re at risk of tearing the tick, so get someone to try and console, reassure and hold your dog still while you remove the pest.
Now, part your dog’s fur where the tick is so you can reach it properly (you might want the other person to do this for you) and get the tick remover under the insect’s entire body, as close to the skin as you can, being super careful to make sure you’ve not got the head clasped in the tool or caught their skin.
Take your time with this part to get it right, the tick won’t be scuttling off anywhere any time soon, the bug is doing everything they can to stay put.
This step will all depend on what type of tick removal tool you have, so you’ll need to read the instructions to figure out if you need to twist the tick off the skin or gently pull straight up to remove the tick.
Many of the tools will look like a small hook, and these will require you to twist in a clockwise motion multiple times until the insect comes loose. The tick should stay attached in the tool so you can dispose of it easily.
Take a look at your pooch’s skin to check that the tick is totally removed and there are no fragments of the bug still embedded. If the tick has torn or the head is still burrowed into the skin, don’t worry, contact your vet and they’ll advise you on what to do next.
Either use your sealed container of alcohol or a piece of tissue to totally banish this blood-sucking bug.
Clean the site of the bite with some rubbing alcohol and wash your hands. And that’s it, the tick is gone! Now, all you need to do is give your dog a few treats and a cuddle to say well done.
It’s super important that you remove a tick swiftly, as some ticks can be the carriers of disease which can be transmitted to your dog, most commonly Lyme disease.
Lyme disease, more scientifically known as Lyme borreliosis, is an illness that both humans and their hounds can suffer from. It’s a strange disease that can cause problems to various areas of the body, such as the neurological system, the joints and even to specific organs.
The actual tick itself doesn’t cause Lyme disease, but many ticks harbour the borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which can be transmitted to your dog through the tick’s bite. Once the bacteria infiltrate the bloodstream, it starts to travel through the body and attack various systems and organs.
Usually, it’s the ‘black-legged tick’ or the ‘deer tick’ that tend to be carriers of this bacteria. It takes around 24-48 hours from the time of the bite for the bacteria to enter the body, which is why it’s so important for you to remove the tick as soon as you spot it.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include:
Swollen and painful joints
Lyme disease can present itself in various other ways, so if you know your dog has been bitten, keep an eye out for any changes in your dog’s general wellbeing. The illness can be treated using antibiotics, so contact your vet if you notice anything out of the ordinary. We’ve got a full post all about Lyme disease if you want to know more.
As the saying goes, prevention is always better than the cure. Parasites can be a problem of the past if you keep up to date with your dog’s parasite medication, which will work to either kill or deter insects if they try to latch onto your dog, and these can come in the form of spot on treatments and tablets.
To prevent any further problems from a tick bite, such as Lyme disease, make sure to maintain your dog’s grooming routine so you can keep an eye out for any greedy little creepy crawlies lurking on your dog’s skin. If your pooch is a fan of prancing around in the long grass or through the woods, it’s always best to routinely check for parasites.
With constant upkeep and maintenance, your dog can still enjoy their fun walkies in the wilderness without having to worry too much about irritating little insects like ticks.
It’s extremely rare that you’ll catch a tick directly from your dog, or at all, they much prefer an animal host over a human host. However, ticks can still bite you on a walk just the same as they can bite your dog.
To prevent a tick bite and possibly Lyme disease, wear long sleeved tops and full-length trousers if you know you’re walking through areas with thick, long vegetation, alongside even using insect repellent. Once you’ve finished your walk, check your clothes over for ticks just the same as you would check your dog over for them.
If you do find yourself with a tick bite, you just need to remove them the same as you would remove them from your dog or get someone else to remove it for you. You might notice a ‘bullseye’ red rash circling where the tick bite was if the tick was a carrier of Lyme disease.
Ticks are all kinds of annoying, they’re real pests that are greedy and turn up where they aren’t wanted.
However, with quick removal they don’t need to cause you or your dog too much bother, so we would always recommend having a tick removal tool on hand so that you can quickly banish those bothersome bloodsuckers for good.
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.