If you and your woof ever enjoy walks through long grass, woods or meadows, chances are you will have encountered some ticks. These tiny parasites lurk in such areas, waiting for new hosts to pass by - hosts that include dogs and humans. They are more active in spring and autumn but can be found all year round. There are various products you can use to prevent or minimise the risk from tick bites as well as some dos and don’ts when it comes to removing ticks.
Are ticks dangerous to dogs?
Ticks are second only to mosquitoes in terms of the spread of infectious disease. They attach themselves to their host to feed and when they’re full, drop off and await a new host. Because they can pass from host to host, they can also spread disease and bacteria from one host to another. Some ticks can transmit Lyme disease, a serious bacterial infection.
The symptoms of Lyme disease differ between human and dog. If you know your dog has been bitten by a tick, watch out for symptoms: they may become depressed, lose their appetite, develop a fever, some lameness or swollen and painful joints and lymph nodes. If you think your dog is suffering, see your vet as soon as possible to start a treatment of antibiotics.
Ticks can also transmit babesiosis, although this is extremely rare in the UK. Symptoms include depression, pale gums, dark, rusty coloured urine, a swollen abdomen and a fever. A dog may also lose its appetite and their skin may look jaundiced. Again, seek veterinary assistance if you suspect babesiosis and be aware your dog could carry it back to the UK from Europe.
How can you prevent tick bites on dogs?
It’s difficult to avoid tick bites on your dog without using a repellent. Dogs in towns are less likely to be affected as ticks are mainly found in woodland, grassland and heath areas, but they can also live in gardens of areas with lots of wildlife, especially deer or sheep. Humans can wear long sleeves or trousers, or tuck trousers into socks, but it’s not so easy for your woof.
There are various repellents available, including tablets, sprays, spot-on treatments and collars. These work by killing the ticks when they try to bite and latch on to your dog. Nothing, however, is 100% tick-proof, so always check tick hotspots after a walk.
How can you spot if your dog has ticks?
Ticks are quite small before they start feeding, but you should be able to feel them on your dog’s body as tiny bumps. It’s always worth checking your dog all over if you’ve been out to a likely tick breeding ground. They especially like the ears (including inside), head, neck, groin, armpits and feet – almost every part of your woof and particularly the lovely warm spots. They start off whitish, looking a bit like a sesame seed, and as they feed, the become bigger and darker in colour. You will just see the body protruding.
The sooner you can remove a tick from your dog, the less likely it is to pass on disease. Within 24 - 36 hours is ideal but as soon as you see one, remove it.
How can you safely remove ticks?
Whatever you do, do not try and pull a tick off your dog with your fingers. It is vital to remove the mouth parts in their entirety otherwise it can lead to an infection. It’s also important not to distress the tick by poking or prodding it (and don’t try and burn the tick or smother it in Vaseline) as it may release some of the already digested blood back into your poor woof, as well as any disease it is carrying, raising the chance of transmitting disease.
You can either gently twist and remove the tick using fine tweezers, or use a specially made tick tool, widely available at all vets at very low cost. These work by fitting between the tick’s body and mouth parts, enabling you to gently twist and lift the whole thing off. If you leave the mouth parts behind, contact your vet who will be able to assist – your dog may need a course of antibiotics.
Once it’s safely removed, clean the affected area on your dog, as well as your hands, and dispose of the tick – you could crush it and dispose of it, wrapping it in sticky tape (being super careful not to get any blood on you) or put it in a lidded glass jar for a few days. Don’t just flush them away when they’re still alive as they may well survive.
We hope this hasn’t made you too itchy! Ticks are, unfortunately, a factor of dog ownership. It’s very difficult to avoid ticks completely, even using tick prevention treatments. The best thing you can do is be vigilant and regularly check your dog, particularly after every time you have been out. Keep safe!