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Ticks On Dogs: What Do You Do?

Have you ever been witness to ticks on dogs? What do you do when you do find these creepy crawlers on your canine companion? Read this article first before you do anything. Dr. Jess will explain ticks on dogs below:

What Is a Tick?

A tick is one type of parasite that is commonly found in the United States and around the world.

They are a part of the arachnid class of insects and are found all over the world and can be put into two different categories: hard ticks and soft ticks. 

Ticks are considered ectoparasites, meaning that they live on the outside of their host’s body and do their damage from the outside on in. 

They receive their nutrients from the host that they are on, which parasites all do. 

Ticks do this by feeding on the blood of their host mammal. 

Many times ticks are described as being engorged, meaning that they are very full and round, occurring after feeding off of their host animal. 

Ticks have 4 main life stages that go in order from the egg stage, to the larval stage, the nymph stage, and finally, the adult stage, which is the stage that most of us think of when the word tick is mentioned.

Ticks range from 1mm to 5 or 6 mm depending on the species, age, and if they have had a blood meal recently or not. 

Where Are Ticks Found?

Ticks are found throughout the world.  However, certain types of ticks live in certain areas or parts of the world. 

Here In the U.S. the brown deer tick, the Lone star tick, and the blacklegged tick are all commonly seen. 

In the Southeastern United States, where I live, I see a lot of American dog ticks, lone star ticks, Brown dog ticks, and blacklegged ticks on animals.

There are different times of the year, in specific seasons around the globe, where ticks seem to be more problematic than at other times. 

This is because of the tick life cycle, as well as the seasonal migration/behavior patterns in certain wildlife, that may help spread ticks in certain seasons. 

For instance, here in the U.S., deer are quite active in the Fall season, their natural mating season.  

These same deer travel longer distances during this time of year, in search of a mate. 

While on their longer travels through the woods and brush, they are more likely to come into contact with more ticks that are questing, than if they were traveling their normal amount outside of mating season. 

This gives the tick more chances to hitch a ride on the deer, or more chances to take a blood meal. 

brown tick engorged and head inside dog skin

How Do Ticks Get On Dogs?

Ticks can latch onto dogs through multiple avenues.  The most popular, is likely the easiest way for the tick too – getting the tick from outside in the tick’s environment. 

Ticks will find a warm mammal’s body by sensing odors, body heat, vibrations, or extra moisture.

The dog gets close enough to the tick for the tick to either crawl on to, brush on to, or fall upon the dog, termed “questing”. 

Questing occurs when the tick keeps certain arms free and ready to grasp at anything moving coming their way, with their other limbs grasping whatever they’re currently resting on – blade of grass for example.

These sneaky little buggers can crawl up a dog’s entire leg without them even knowing about it! 

Another other way for a tick to hitch a ride on your dog is for something else, like another animal or even a human, to bring it inside, into your dog’s environment.

Either scenario is gross to think about, and both avenues can happen easier and faster than you likely think!

What Do Ticks Do To Dogs?

Ticks bite a dog’s skin. There is a analgesic quality in the tick’s saliva so that the dog doesn’t feel the tick bite into them, because the saliva from the tick can numb the skin of the dog.

Once the tick has bitten the dog’s skin and broken through to reach blood, the tick will feed on the blood of the dog.

This means that the tick will get larger and larger, also known as becoming engorged, the more blood that the tick takes from, or collects, from the dog that they are attached to.

Once they are done feeding from the dog, they will let go and fall off of the dog.

How Do Ticks Transfer Diseases to Dogs?

Great question!  I always love answering this one, because it’s so interesting to me. 

Ticks transfer diseases from inside their bodies to other animals and humans quite easily. 

These parasites do this extremely efficiently through biting the animal. 

The bite of the infected tick contains saliva that is contaminated with certain diseases, such as the lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. 

Once bitten, the saliva carrying the microorganisms, travels through the animal’s bloodstream to other parts of the body. 

From there, depending on the disease that the tick’s saliva was carrying, can go over and be swiftly transported throughout the animal’s body, thanks to a very efficient blood pumping system most animals we know, are equipped with.

Can Dogs Get Ticks From Humans?

Point blank, yes, dogs can get ticks from humans.  An innocent human could unknowingly be transporting a tick on them or on clothing that they are wearing. 

This same human can bring the tick inside, right up to the dog or at the very least, into the dog’s close environment.

How Do Tick Bites Affect Dogs?

Tick bites can affect dogs in multiple ways.

One way that a tick bite can affect a dog is the act of biting through the skin itself.  Although small, the bite of a tick must penetrate the skin barrier in order for the tick to reach blood to feed off of. 

Any time the skin membrane is penetrated through, there will be a downstream inflammatory reaction brought on by the dog’s body, in order to fix the damage. 

This is a natural progression of steps that the body produces internally to keep the body safe.  The entire process, from start to finish, is orchestrated by the dog’s immune system. 

Immune system cells will come swarming in to fight off invader cells and invader microorganisms. 

The immune system will also build the blood clot, the eventual scab, and the eventual new skin too!  How cool is that?!?

And speaking of the immune system fighting off invader cells and microorganisms, we can’t forget about another way that tick bites can affect dogs, through the spread of diseases.

Although the dog’s immune system is setup to fight off dangerous invaders such as foreign bacteria and viruses, it is not always foolproof. 

There are many diseases out there, such as Lyme Disease, that dog’s can become infected with, that first come from a tick. 

Therefore, we don’t want ticks around or near our dogs at all.  This can be quite the bummer (such an understatement), as these little sneaky things can go undetected for so long. 

black french bulldog with magnifying glass

What Diseases Can Ticks Spread to Dogs?

Ticks can spread multiple different diseases to many different types of mammals, with differing degrees of symptoms to them all.

Lyme Disease:

Lyme disease is a disease spread by specific species of tick, the black legged tick. 

The culprit of this disease is a bacterium called a spirochete, a spiral-shaped bacterium, that passes from the tick to the host mammal when the tick is feeding from its host. 

This spiral bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, goes into the host mammal’s bloodstream, allowing it access to the rest of the body [source]. 

The bacteria can then move on to cause signs and symptoms, commonly seen in dogs with Lyme disease. 

Another oddity with these spiral-shaped bacteria, is that the mammal’s immune system has a hard time detecting the odd-shaped bacteria – it’s not used to spotting such a rare-shaped invader. 

Therefore, the undetected microorganism can hang out in the body for long periods of time with out signs appearing. 

Then, weeks or months after the initial infection, the body may recognize the invader and call the immune system to attack. 

This is when the animal will see signs of Lyme Disease, such as joint soreness, lethargy, lymph node enlargement, and fevers of unknown origin.

Ehrlichiosis:

Ehrlichiosis or ehrlichia, is very common to Lyme disease in many ways. 

Ehrlichia is also caused by a bacteria, a type known as a rickettsial bacterium, usually Ehrlichia canis, AKA E. canis

The signs and symptoms for ehrlichia and extremely similar to those for Lyme disease as well, including leg and joint sore, fatigue, and fevers. 

It is spread through tick bites as they feed off of their mammalian hosts, of which, the most common of these ticks doing the infecting, is the brown deer tick.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever:

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, also known as RMSF for short, is yet another disease, spread by ticks. Again, the tick’s saliva is infected with a small type of bacteria called Rickettsia rickettsii.

This rickettsial bacterium can wreak havoc on the blood vessels of the host mammal, cause the spots that may be visual on the skin and internal organs of the affected host, hence the “spotted” portion of this disease.

Babesiosis:

The bacteria in the babesia disease, affects the dog’s red blood cells and is also transmitted through tick bite.

Some of the more common symptoms of canine babesiosis include fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, anemia due to affected red blood cells, and difficulty breathing.

Anaplasmosis:

Anaplasmosis is transmitted to your dog from the blacklegged tick and the brown dog tick.

Just like the transfer of bacteria from the tick bite to the host mammal in Lyme disease and Ehrlichia, anaplasmosis occurs in the same general fashion – through the saliva in the tick’s bite.

Again, anaplasmosis has a very similar symptoms list like that of Lyme disease such as joint pain, lethargy, fever, etc.

white dog with many ticks on closeupof hair and skin

Where Are Ticks Commonly Found On Dogs?

These tricky little guys can hide just about anywhere!  Many species of ticks are quite small when young or before they have had a blood meal. 

Once engorged, most ticks are slightly larger, but still can be quite hidden in dog hair, in cute skin wrinkles, and between wiggly toes and tails.  Sometimes engorged ticks even pass as looking like a nipple!

Because they can be so tricky to spot, it is a good idea to check your dog for ticks on a daily basis and after playing outside. 

Places where I see ticks more commonly is they head, more specifically the ears – what a safe place to hide out in! 

Another place that I find ticks commonly is on the legs.  This makes sense if your dog has been outside in the woods or tall grass, where a sweep of the legs can sweep up a hungry tick lingering close by.  Don’t forget those feet and toes – a great place for ticks to hide out!

Another place I see ticks is the stomach and abdominal area.  The belly is a more hidden place for a tick to hang out – but be careful – is that a tick, or is that a nipple? 

One last place that I see ticks hanging out is the tail area.  This is for the same reason as I mentioned earlier when discussing why ticks are found on a dog’s legs – it was sweeping by in the woods or tall grass and the tick decided to hitch a ride.

What To Do With Ticks on Dogs:

This is one of the most common questions that I get when discussing ticks with my clients.  What do you do if you find ticks on dogs?

  1. Firstly, search for more ticks! If there is one tick present, there very well may be friends of theirs joining the party. look close with a visual inspection as well as a feeling inspection, petting and palpating your pup all over, not forgetting their nooks and crannies – in the ears, facial wrinkles, under arms, and between their toes.
  2. Secondly, put on gloves and grab a tick removal product, such as the Tick Stick, the Tick Twister, the Tick Key, the Tick Tornado, that wrap themselves underneath the abdomen section of the tick and make it easier to remove the mouthpiece of the tick along with the rest of its body – something that a pair of scissors many times gets wrong.
  3. Expose the tick by spreading the hair surrounding the tick, to the sides. Use some rubbing alcohol or water to help part the hair and expose the parasite for best results.
  4. Use the tick removal product and slide it underneath the body of the tick that you can visualize. Pinch and apply soft, even upward pressure to slowly release the tick from the skin of your dog, making sure that you are pulling straight upward from the tick until the tick comes out.
  5. Very gently clean the area with a dog-safe antiseptic cleaning product.
  6. Place the tick in a sealable container with alcohol and toss away, making sure that the container is sealed up nice and tight so that the tick does not escape!

Tick Removal Tools

Tools that may help you properly remove a tick from your dog:

After removing the tick, cleaning the area, and disposing of the tick appropriately, continue to monitor your dog for symptoms discussed earlier in this article that may elude you to a tick-borne disease or infection.

Some of the more common symptoms that may indicate further investigation include fatigue, joint pain, fever, and lethargy, among other signs.

How to Remove Ticks on Dogs

How to Remove Ticks on Dogs

Prep Time: 2 minutes
Active Time: 2 minutes
Total Time: 4 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

A guide to help you step-by-step on how to remove a tick from your dog safely and properly.

Materials

  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Tick Tornado or Tick Stick

Tools

  • sealable container with alcohol
  • gloves

Instructions

    1. Firstly, search for more ticks! If there is one tick present, there very well may be friends of theirs joining the party. look close with a visual inspection as well as a feeling inspection, petting and palpating your pup all over, not forgetting their nooks and crannies - in the ears, facial wrinkles, under arms, and between their toes.
    2. Secondly, put on gloves and grab a tick removal product, such as the Tick Stick or the Tick TOrnado, that wrap themselves underneath the abdomen section of the tick and make it easier to remove the mouthpiece of the tick along with the rest of its body - something that a pair of scissors many times gets wrong.
    3. Expose the tick by spreading the hair surrounding the tick, to the sides. Use some rubbing alcohol or water to help part the hair and expose the parasite for best results.
    4. Use the tick removal product and slide it underneath the body of the tick that you can visualize. Pinch and apply soft, even upward pressure to slowly release the tick from the skin of your dog, making sure that you are pulling straight upward from the tick until the tick comes out.
    5. Very gently clean the area with a dog-safe antiseptic cleaning product.
    6. Place the tick in a sealable container with alcohol and toss away, making sure that the container is sealed up nice and tight so that the tick does not escape! Remove your gloves and wash your hands well.

Notes

Contact your veterinarian with any concerns about ticks on dogs before removal of any ticks themselves. Take pictures of the tick to send to your vet if there are lingering concerns. Watch for adverse reactions and signs of inflammation and infection of the tick bite site.

Ticks on Dogs: Treatment Options

There are many different treatment types out there that your veterinarian may recommend.

These different recommendations depend on your dog’s health, age, etc., as well as the disease that they may be infected with, and what symptoms that your dog is expressing.

Much of the treatment options include symptomatic treatment, meaning that your veterinarian will treat or help stop the symptoms your dog is going through, not the underlying disease.

Symptomatic treatment, along with certain medications, some which are discussed below, are very common courses of treatment when it comes to tick bites.

There are many drugs available to help in certain tick bite cases.

For instance, a drug called imidocarb dipropionate can be used in dogs with babesiosis.

For ehrlichia, doxycycline, minocycline, or tetracycline may be prescribed for your dog by your veterinarian.

There are other medications that can be prescribed by your local vet in order to help with your dog’s specific situation.

Please contact your veterinarian to see what you should do after finding a tick on your dog, and they can discuss with you which treatments and medications may be best for your pet.

Ticks on Dogs: Prevention Methods

Be sure to use a veterinarian-recommended tick preventive on your dog.

There are many different types and formulations for you and your veterinarian to choose from for your dog that will be most appropriate for their health, their lifestyle, and their likelihood of coming into contact with a tick.

There are many preventative medicines that you can administer to your dog to help prevent issues between ticks and your dog.

Some of these tick preventatives have a topical application, where you apply the liquid in between the shoulder blades along the lower part of the neck.

Other types of tick preventatives are oral, or taken by mouth.

Most of these preventatives are administered on a monthly basis.

Check with your veterinarian on which option is best for you and your dog.

Ticks on Dogs: Final Thoughts

Ticks are very common parasite to find on dogs here in the United States.

Ticks quest on dogs in order to feed off of their blood.

Ticks can transfer multiple different diseases in their saliva, that when they bite your dog, can be transferred to them.

Some of these diseases include lyme disease, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted ever, ehrlichia, and babesiosis.

If you do find a tick on your dog, proper removal of the tick is a necessity.

Remember to take a picture of the tick and monitor your dog for adverse signs of disease, like lethargy, fever, and joint pain.

Contact your veterinarian with any concerns. If your dog needs to be seen by your local vet after tick bites, a treatment plan and then a preventative plan, should be in order.

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