An unpleasant group of creepy crawlers that are of particular importance for dog owners to be aware of are ticks—as well as the environments they reside within. Whether you are someone who only occasionally spends a day outdoors or an avid weekly outdoorsman, you may have heard of tick seasons in passing and the type of ticks common to your region of the world. However, the dangers of tick-borne illness, specifically Lyme disease transmitted through tick bites, is a topic that your local veterinarian should cover along with other canine preventative care steps. Even if you plan to consult your veterinarian, it’s good to know what kind of outdoor terrain ticks prefer, how to identify a tick on your dog, how to remove a tick safely, and how to identify signs of tick-borne illnesses.
Where do ticks typically live?
While there are many types of ticks who live in different regions of the world, typically ticks prefer these kinds of landscapes:
- Tall grass and brush
- Wooded areas
- Piles of leaves or underbrush
- Sandy grassy areas
What do ticks look like?
Adult ticks are generally small (2-3 millimeters long) and dark in color with a reddish-brown body and brown or black legs (eight in number). Ticks in the early nymph and larval states can be as small as a pinhead. When not engorged with blood, the deer tick is noticeably smaller than the common wood (dog) tick. Given their developmental stages and the differences between males and females, it can be hard to distinguish between them. The CDC has a useful chart with pictures of several types of biting ticks, a break down of where each variety lives, as well as what diseases they transmit. Look here for more information from the CDC: Regions Where Ticks Live.
How to check your dog for ticks?
Following outdoor walks, especially in the listed higher risk environments above, you should check your dog’s entire body including their belly, inside their ears, and armpits. This is a little bit easier if your dog has shorter hair. However, some useful tools for checking your dog especially longer haired breeds are:
- Flea combs – great for dogs with thick or long hair
- Blow dryer – consider doing this one outside to avoid unwanted guests in your home
- Gloves – direct contact with your skin can be harmful if the tick blood is infected or you have scrapes on your skin where bacteria can make contact
- Tweezers – these can be very useful for safely removing a tick from your dog’s skin
- Lint roller – helpful if a tick is on the surface of your dog’s hair
How to remove a tick safely?
Wearing gloves when handling ticks is a good safety precaution due to the risk of infection to yourself from blood exposure or bacteria. Ticks walking across the surface of your dog’s hair or body can easily be picked up with a tissue or zip lock bag. A flea comb can pick up stray unattached ticks in your dog’s hair while conducting a check of their body. Ticks that are attached need to be handled carefully and removed as soon as possible. This can be done with tweezers or a specialized tick removing tool. Grasp the tick with the tweezers firmly as close to your dog’s skin as possible before slowly pulling it out. When removing an attached tick, it is important that you detach the entire tick or be sure that none of the tick’s head or mouth is still embedded in your dog’s skin. Then clean the bite area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Ticks can be flushed down the toilet or kept in a plastic bag to be given to a vet to be tested if a dog has been bitten.
What kind of illnesses can ticks transmit?
One of the most well-known illnesses that ticks transmit to both dogs and humans is a Lyme disease bacterium that can enter your bloodstream after a bite. However, some ticks transmit other illnesses such as ehrlichiosis, rocky mountain spotted fever, or anaplasmosis. These can often be treated with antibiotics. Ticks are adapted to feed for extended periods and the successful transmission of infections, such as the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, typically takes 24 hours or longer, so it is important to remove them promptly.
What symptoms are indicators of Lyme disease in dogs?
While not all bites or even dogs that test positive for Lyme get sick or show symptoms. Here are a few things to look out for:
- Poor appetite
- Swollen joints
- Shifting lameness
- General Soreness
Lyme disease is formally identified through a blood test to test for Lyme bacteria antibodies. The treatment for Lyme infections is typically the antibiotic doxycycline. In rare cases, an extreme infection can lead to Lyme nephritis which can, in turn, lead to kidney failure.
The simplest ways to keep ticks off your dog(s) are to:
- Avoid prime tick habitats
- Keep your lawn mowed
- Be aware of the tick seasons in your region and adjust your outdoor habits accordingly
- Consider giving your dog preventative tick medication with feedback from your veterinarian
Tick season is typically spring and fall depending on where you live, but some ticks can become active during thaws even in winter. Additionally, it can be useful to occasionally check your region's environmental agency reports or ecological surveys before outdoor activities. This can be helpful because in some years, depending on temperature and weather, there can be higher tick populations which are often tracked by ecology or wildlife agencies.
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- Basedow, K. E. (2021, October 5). It's deer tick season-here's how to protect your dog from their bites. Yahoo! Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://www.yahoo.com/now/deer-tick-season-heres-protect-093500209.html.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, May 27). Regions where ticks live. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/geographic_distribution.html.
- Harris, D. (2021). How to Prevent Ticks on Dogs in (October 2021) - Guide. THE PETSMASTER. Retrieved October 6, 2021. From https://thepetsmaster.com/how-to-prevent-ticks-on-dogs/
- Holland, K. (2019, July 15). Tick bites: Symptoms, treatments, pictures, and prevention. Healthline. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/tick-bites.
- Llera, R., & Ward, E. (n.d.). Anaplasmosis in dogs. vca_corporate. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/anaplasmosis-in-dogs.
- Ward, E., & Llera, R. (n.d.). Ehrlichiosis in dogs. vca_corporate. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/ehrlichiosis-in-dogs.
- Editorial, P. M. D. (2019, August 6). Rocky Mountain spotted fever in dogs. PetMD. Retrieved October 6, 2021, from https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_dg_rocky_mountain_spotted_fever.
Lazy 5 Vets. “Ick Removal on Golden Retriever.” lazy5vets.Com, 8 May 2020, https://lazy5vets.com/tick-prevention/. Accessed 7 Oct. 2021.