We know dealing with ticks can be an unfortunate reality of dog ownership. The creepy crawly pests are sneaky, dangerous, and at times hard to avoid. Because they’re so tiny, ticks can be particularly difficult to detect on dogs.
We don’t want your precious pup to fall victim to these stealthy insects. (Technically they’re not insects; they’re arachnids, in the spider family. But I digress.) This blog post will break down how to spot ticks, why they’re bad news for your furry friends, and—most importantly—what to do about them.
What are ticks and why are they so harmful?
Ticks are teeny tiny arachnids with a flat, round body and a bunch of little legs. They’re ectoparasites, meaning they’re parasitic organisms that live on the exterior of an animal’s body.
There are hundreds of different species of ticks in the U.S., but their prevalence depends on your region and the season. They tend to thrive in warmth and humidity and love dense vegetation. (Think spring, summer, and early fall—depending on where you live—and woods or areas with heavy shrubs or tall grasses.)
For dog owners in the Chicago area, it’s good to know that deer ticks are prevalent in wooded areas in Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin during warm weather months.
How do ticks get on dogs?
Ticks can fall or crawl onto your dog, where they then attach to its skin. They might crawl around for a bit, exploring the outside of your unsuspecting mutt’s body, before burrowing into the skin through their mouths. They also produce a sticky substance that helps them latch on for dear life.
Here’s where it really gets yucky: Once attached to your dog and burrowed into the skin, ticks survive by feeding on its blood. Even worse, ticks carry several different diseases that can then infect your dog.
What diseases do ticks give dogs?
Ticks carry a variety of diseases that can infect animals (including humans). The most well-known is Lyme disease, which in dogs causes arthritis and swelling of joints. If left undetected or untreated, the infection can spread to the heart and nervous system. Another common tick-borne disease is Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). In dogs, RMSF can cause fever, muscle and joint pain, cough, abdominal pain, and digestive issues, among other symptoms. Canine Ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, bartonella, and hepatozoonosis are other tick-borne illnesses that can infect dogs. These diseases are marked by low blood platelets and have similar signs and symptoms. Your dog may begin having frequent nose bleeds, become easily bruised, or display symptoms of anemia.
Bottom line: If you’ve found a tick on your dog or have been in an area known to have a heavy tick-population, and your dog begins displaying unusual or alarming symptoms, see your vet and have him or her checked out immediately.
How to check a dog for ticks
Given that ticks are small and relatively flat and dogs are furry, locating ticks on your dog can be tricky. Ticks burrow into fur, and eventually skin, so checking your dog for ticks can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. But for your dog’s health and safety, it’s important to do a check any time you’ve been in an area that may have a risk of ticks. Or, if you happen to notice one tick on your dog, it’s a good idea to do a thorough, whole-body check to make sure there aren’t more lurking around.
What does a tick look like on a dog?
Ticks are small, round, flat, and dark colored. Despite their diminutive size, they’re still fairly visible. You’re basically looking for a round brown or black dot on your dog. (Of course, if your dog has dark fur, pinpointing a tick will be more challenging.)
It’s possible you’ll spot one crawling around on your dog, before it’s burrowed in. If it’s already managed to burrow its head in, it will look like a small, dark spot protruding from your dog’s skin.
How to find ticks on a dog
You want to be extremely thorough when performing a tick check on your dog. Here’s a step-by-step to help you out.
- Find a spot with good lighting that allows enough space for you to have your dog spread out or move around as needed as you perform the search.
- Start with your dog’s head. Run your fingers along and through the fur, feeling for any small bumps as you go along and keeping your eyes peeled. Make sure to check under and inside the ears.
- Moving down the body, continue combing your fingers through the fur. This could be a slow process. (Don’t forget to check under your dog’s collar!)
- Check both sides of the body. Once you’ve gone through the back and sides of your dog’s body, turn him or her over to check the belly and nether regions. Be sure to look underneath and on the tail.
- Next move onto the arms, legs, and paws. Ticks love nooks and crannies, so definitely search the paw pads and in between the toes.
Tip: Bathtime is a great time to do routine tick checks. During tick season, each time you bathe your dog, feel around for ticks as you scrub!
Now onto the important stuff: How to remove a tick from your dog. I’ll explain a few different methods.
A few words of caution: If the tick has already inserted its head into the skin, you have to make sure you remove the entire body from your dog so as not to leave the head. So no squeezing, be gentle with the tick as you remove it, and avoid using just your fingers.
How to remove a tick from a dog with tweezers
This is likely the most effective method. You may follow the same steps with a tick removal tool, a special hook-like tool that can be found online or at pet stores.
- Making sure you have good light to spot the tick and see what you’re doing, spread your dog’s fur away from the tick’s location with one hand.
- With the other hand, use fine-point tweezers to gently take hold of the tick and pluck its entire body out of the dog’s skin.
- Place the tick into a piece of toilet paper, and promptly flush it down the toilet. Alternatively, it can be a good idea to place the tick in a ziplock bag to drop off at your vet’s office. They may be able to tell you whether the tick was potentially harmful and if you should take any next steps with your dog.
- Disinfect your tweezers.
How to remove a tick from a dog with alcohol
- Follow the steps above.
- Once you’ve removed the tick, dab that part of the skin with rubbing alcohol.
- Next, you may place the tick in a small container of rubbing alcohol to ensure its demise before you dispose of it.
How to remove a tick from a dog with vaseline
Note that this method can be controversial, as some experts claim that the vaseline may cause the tick to secret the infectious contents of its gut if it’s under distress, or that it can inhibit the removal of the entire tick body. That said, the vaseline method involves smothering the tick with vaseline before attempting to remove it. Some people claim this will cause the tick to slide out on its own.
You may also remove the tick using tweezers, as explained above, and use vaseline afterward to make sure it’s dead and can do no more harm.
How to remove a tick from a dog with dish soap
Similar to the vaseline method above, some people claim that drowning the tick in dish soap will ease the removal process. Again, caution should be used here, as you don’t want to risk further harming your pet with a botched tick removal. (What I’m saying is, the vaseline and dish soap methods probably aren’t your best bet.) Dish soap can be useful, however, for cleaning up afterward.
How to keep ticks off your dog
The best course of action when it comes to ticks and your dog is to try to prevent them in the first place. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind!
- Ask your vet about tick control medications or products. There are a number of topical options available in pet stores. Some tick-borne illnesses can now be prevented with a vaccine, as well. If you live in a high-risk area for ticks, you might talk to your vet about this option.
- Keep your dog clean with regular baths, especially after outdoor excursions.
- Regularly treat your yard. Of course, you want to be careful about the chemicals going into your lawn. But lawn treatments can ensure your pooch can explore the yard safe from ticks.
- If your yard borders woods or an area with dense vegetation, look into landscaping solutions that can act as a buffer.
- Take measures to keep wild animals, who may be carrying ticks, out of your yard.
- Avoid areas that tend to have high tick populations. For instance, you might opt for a summer outing at the beach with your dog rather than a hike in the woods during high tick season.
Ticks are t(r)icky, but Mutt Jackson is here to help. Have any questions or concerns? Want to know more about us and what we do for dogs? Let’s chat!