Most of us who have dogs are familiar with ticks, especially if we spend a lot of time outdoors. Although you may see the occasional tick in the winter months, it’s in the spring, when the weather turns milder, that they become much more prevalent.
Types of Ticks and Tick Diseases
The two most common ticks are the American Dog Tick, also known as the Wood Tick, and the Deer Tick, sometimes called the Blacklegged Tick. While the Dog Tick can also carry harmful bacteria, the Deer Tick is by far the more dangerous of the two, due to its ability to spread Lyme, a serious disease that can be harmful to people and pets.
When treating acute Lyme, if caught early enough, antibiotics seem to be very effective in preventing serious illness from developing. But when left untreated, Lyme disease can potentially lead to more serious health issues for both humans and pets. This condition is often called, “Chronic Lyme Disease”, the validity of which has been hotly debated within the medical community for years.
Although dogs can have Lyme disease without any indication of illness, if symptoms do develop, the most common ones are lameness, lethargy, painful joints, loss of appetite, and fever. It’s extremely important to contact your vet promptly if you notice any of these symptoms in your dog. Untreated Lyme can put your dog at risk for more serious health problems, including organ damage, and even death.
How to Check For and Find Ticks on Dogs
- Perform a visual tick check every time you come in from being in the woods or in tall grass, especially in the spring and early summer.
- Pay particular attention to the lower part of the dog; their feet, legs, and belly area where ticks are most likely to hitch a ride.
- Perform regular checks for any ticks that may be embedded, feeling for any small lumps or bumps. Here you should focus on the neck and head area, including the ears, as this is where ticks prefer to bite.
Keep in mind that Deer Ticks are much smaller than Dog Ticks and can be easily missed.
How to Remove A Tick From Your Dog
If you find a tick on your dog that is embedded, you need to carefully remove it right away. Ticks can transmit disease in as little as 24 - 36 hours, so removing them immediately is extremely important.
- With a pair of fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick’s head as close to the skin as possible, and gently pull out using even pressure and without twisting.
- If using a tick removal tool, note that they work using a slightly different technique, so be sure to follow the directions on the packaging.
- It’s a good idea to place the tick in a jar or a ziplock bag and hang onto it for a few weeks, so if your dog does develop any symptoms, the tick can be tested for potentially harmful bacteria, something your vet can prescribe antibiotics for.
- Check to make sure you removed the entire tick. If you suspect the head may still be embedded, this can still lead to infection, so keep a close eye on the area for 2-3 weeks, and consult your veterinarian for advice.
- Treat the area where the tick was removed with an antiseptic/antimicrobial.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and clean your tweezers or removal tool with isopropyl alcohol.
How to Protect Dogs From Ticks
After spending time outdoors, your first line of defense should be to remove any ticks that may be on your dog. To do this, use a brush, a flea comb, or even a pet hair roller to remove any ticks before they have a chance to bite. Remember to focus on the legs and belly area, where ticks typically hop on.
Keep the grass around your house short, and remove all leaves and debris. This is especially important if your dog spends time outside in your yard.
Tick preventative products, such as topical spot treatments, collars, and oral medications are widely available. Some dogs, especially those prone to seizures may have sensitivities to the chemicals and pesticides used in these products, so be sure to talk to your vet before starting these treatments.
For dogs who are sensitive to chemicals, look into natural chemical-free products. There are various options for treating your pet, as well as “pet-safe” yard sprays to help reduce the number of ticks on your property.
There is also a Lyme vaccine for dogs, however, its use remains an ongoing debate among veterinary professionals. Due to lower efficacy, a shorter period of immunization, and a higher risk of adverse reaction, many vets do not recommend it, especially for certain breeds. If you are considering the Lyme vaccine for your dog, do some research and consult your veterinarian to determine if the vaccine is appropriate.