Ticks are one of the most common parasites to infect both humans and pets. A parasite, by definition, lives on or in its host, at the expense of the host. Ticks are small creatures that are closely related to spiders and have well-developed mouthparts that enable them to attach and feed on their host for several days. Ticks can inject a local anesthetic into their host at the beginning of feeding to enable them to continue sucking blood undisturbed for the remainder of their meal.
Unfortunately, ticks do not only suck blood from their host but are also capable of transmitting serious diseases, such as Lyme’s disease. Therefore, methods of preventing tick bites should be employed in high-risk dogs and routine inspection and removal of ticks should be done in high-risk environments. Here’s what to do when your dog has a tick:
How did my dog get a tick?
The ticks found feeding on dogs are usually the larger adults. The immature, smaller ticks are found within the environment usually feeding on wild mammals or birds. Ticks tend to be found near grassy areas or in forest or moorland vegetation. Dogs and cats most commonly pick up ticks by walking, working, or hunting in these areas. The kennel dog tick, however, is well adapted to kennel environments.
Hundreds of different tick species exist across the world and the species present vary according to geographical region. The Ixodes species of tick are most responsible for disease transmission in dogs and humans. Ticks belonging to the Ixodes species include the deer tick and sheep tick.
Ticks are active year-round but reach peak activity during Spring and Fall, however, this does vary according to tick species and geographical location. Ticks tend to lurk in the tall grass waiting for their next unsuspecting victim. The parasite can sense animals from vibrations, heat, or body odors. Once a host comes close by, the tick latches onto the animal’s skin where it can begin to feed. Some ticks latch onto their feeding spot immediately while others crawl to find their perfect spot. Ticks can sometimes be found in very odd places, including ears, eyes, and private parts! It may be more difficult to see ticks in long-haired breeds.
What to do when your dog has a tick:
- Importantly, do not panic if you find a tick on your dog.
Not all ticks are necessarily carrying diseases but, owing to this risk and the seriousness of diseases transmitted by ticks, it is important to remove all ticks as soon as possible.
How to remove a dog tick
The best way to remove a tick is by using a tick remover. Tick removers can be purchased from pet stores and your local veterinary clinic. A tick remover is a device that has a hook at one end which can be slid beneath the tick that is attached to your pet’s skin. Once the hook is positioned beneath the tick, twist the handle whilst keeping the hook flat to the skin, until the tick is detached, along with intact mouthparts. When ticks are removed inappropriately, the mouthparts can be left behind, in your pet’s skin. Mouthparts that remain in the skin are likely to cause skin infections and discomfort.
Alternatively, tweezers may be used, to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, to ensure that the mouthparts are removed. The tick bite can then be cleaned with dilute salty water (one teaspoon of salt to a cup of lukewarm water) or you can speak to your veterinarian who can provide a pet-specific antiseptic.
What not to do!
Don’t rush -take your time to ensure that the tick is removed correctly and ensure that no mouthparts are left behind. It is also important to not squeeze the body of the tick as this will cause regurgitation of their bloody meal, along with any diseases the tick may be carrying, back into its host- your dog!
Do not be tempted to use home remedies for ticks, such as covering them with Vaseline or Dawn dish soap. This method of suffocation could stress the tick and subsequently cause them to regurgitate and release diseases into your pet. Dawn is not the best shampoo product for pets as it could harm your pet’s skin and it is not an effective or efficient method for treating or repelling ticks or fleas either. If you are concerned about your pet or their skin, contact your veterinarian who will be able to advise you of appropriate pet-specific products.
Treatment for dog ticks
If you are unable to remove a tick effectively or you are worried that mouthparts have been left in the skin, you should contact your veterinarian for advice. Occasionally tick bites can cause a skin infection which may require a course of antibiotics given by your veterinarian.
What species is the tick?
If you have managed to get rid of a tick from your dog, then place it in a secure spot. Contact your veterinarian who may be interested in gathering information on the tick species present within their area. It can be difficult to determine the species of a tick just by looking at it. Expert tick identification is required where ticks are examined in the laboratory by looking at their DNA. It is also possible to determine what types of diseases the ticks may be carrying.
What happens if a tick is not removed?
The longer a tick remains attached to its host the higher the chance of transmission of the disease the tick may be carrying. Some diseases may take 36-48 hours to be transmitted by a tick so the sooner that you can remove a tick the better the chance that disease transmission has not occurred.
Tick diseases that infect dogs include Lyme’s disease, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis. The disease that is transmitted by the tick depends on the tick species and geographical location.
These diseases cause serious symptoms and can quickly lead to death if not treated rapidly. Speak to your veterinarian if your dog has recently been bitten by a tick and is unwell.
Some species of tick are capable of releasing toxins into their host causing paralysis of a dog’s limbs and- in severe cases- respiratory muscles, leading to death.
Anemia (lowered red blood cell count) results when many ticks are feeding on a dog host. Red blood cells are important oxygen-carrying cells and therefore symptoms of anemia may include weakness, collapse, and breathing difficulties. Puppies and young dogs infested by many ticks are particularly susceptible to anemia.
Tick bites may cause a skin rash or infection in dogs. Foreign body reactions can develop when mouthparts have not been removed properly. Contact your vet if your dog develops a skin reaction after being bitten by a tick.
How can I stop my dog from getting ticks?
There are a variety of safe and effective tick repellent products available for your pet. These products work by repelling ticks and/or killing any ticks that do attach to your dog within 24-48 hours. They come in different formulations such as sprays, collars, and spot-on products. Most of the products have excellent activity for up to 28 days, though some may last for longer. It’s a good idea to buy prescription tick preventatives rather than rely on over-the-counter products, as they’re generally more reliable. You should speak to your veterinarian or vet tech regarding suitable products for your dog.
Ticks that are well attached when treatment is started should be removed manually as they may fail to fall off your pet within 24-48 hours. Tick control should be continuous during peak tick-activity seasons and applied according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. If there is any doubt continue tick control through the winter too.
If you are traveling with your pet into an area where tick-transmitted diseases are common, then speak to your veterinarian about appropriate products to help keep your dog safe. Apply tick control products several days to a week in advance before visiting high-risk tick areas, to ensure optimal protection.
Ticks are active all year but reach peak activity levels in Spring and Fall. Sticking to paths and avoiding areas where ticks reside, such as tall grass, forests, or moorlands, will help reduce the risk of ticks attaching to your pet in the first place.
No one method is 100% effective, therefore it is important to inspect yourself and your dog after being outdoors, especially in high-risk areas. Be sure to examine your dog’s entire body including the head, ears, limbs, and feet. If your dog has been bit by a tick, remove the tick promptly and correctly using a tick-removing device. Tick diseases are difficult and expensive to treat and therefore prevention is better than cure.
Are dog ticks harmful to humans?
As in dogs, ticks can also be harmful to humans. The harmful effects of tick bites are mainly due to the serious diseases that they can transmit to their host whilst feeding. Not all tick bites will result in disease transmission but owing to the potentially serious nature of some of the diseases transmitted by ticks it is important to be vigilant.
Lyme disease is a serious bacterial infection that can affect humans and dogs bitten by ticks. Lyme’s disease can cause a chronic and debilitating illness in humans and dogs if not treated early enough.
Some people who do not realize they have been bitten by a tick or do not notice the early symptoms of Lyme disease may go on to develop a chronic and sometimes debilitating illness. The early treatment of Lyme disease with antibiotics from your doctor offers the best chance of cure. It is important to be aware of the risks that tick bites may pose to us and to children. To reduce the risk of being bitten by ticks, tuck your trousers into your socks when walking outdoors, use insect repellents containing DEET, stick to paths if possible, and wear light-colored clothing so ticks are easy to spot and brush off. Regularly check your skin and that of your children from head to toe after being outdoors. Speak to your doctor if you have been bitten by a tick, notice a rash, or develop flu-like symptoms.
Other tick diseases infecting humans include Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), Ehrlichiosis, and Rickettsial infections.
Ticks are an important parasite of both pets and humans. Hundreds of different species of tick exist worldwide with certain species and geographical locations being more important in disease transmission. Whilst being bitten by a tick does not necessarily result in your dog getting a tick-borne disease, the serious implications of disease transmission should not be taken lightly and all methods of avoiding tick bites should be employed.
If you or your dog are bitten by a tick, then prompt and safe removal of the tick is key as the diseases tend to spread to your dog after 24-48 hours of tick feeding. Should you or your pet develop symptoms after tick bites then it is important to seek medical advice from both your doctor and your veterinarian. With increased pet travel across the world, it is important to ensure pets receive effective tick preventative medications to reduce the risk of disease transmission.
Featured image credit: andriano.cz, Shutterstock