Here are the most commonly asked questions about dog ticks and how to deal with ticks on pets generally.
What are ticks?
Ticks are small arachnids, part of the order Parasitiformes. Ticks rank second only to mosquitoes in infectious disease spread to both pets and people. Along with mites, they constitute the subclass Acari. Ticks are ectoparasites (external parasites), living by feeding on the blood of mammals, birds and sometimes reptiles and amphibians.
What are the symptoms of ticks bites on pets?
- Tick bites cause irritation to pets (and humans!)
- Lead to abscesses if left untreated
- Transmit diseases in the UK and abroad
So periodically checking your dog for any unwanted parasitic hitchhikers before they can attach, is important.
Does my dog have ticks?
Ticks are easier to spot on a dog's body than fleas. Ticks are usually dark and large enough to see easily (unless your dog's hair is very long and/or full). Ticks don't move around much once they find a spot on the host body and they bury their head into the skin to feed on the blood of the animal. The longer they feed, the larger their bodies become as they fill with blood.
How do you find ticks on dogs?
Here's how to inspect and remove ticks from your dog. Starting at the head, run your hands over the dog’s body, checking under the collar and using your fingers like the teeth of a comb. Thoroughly check the whole body, making sure you look under the tail and around the anus. Ticks are drawn to the dark, hidden areas on the body, so be sure to check between the toes and inside the groin and front legs (armpits).
Ticks start off flat like a sesame seed. They lie against the hair growth until they become fat with blood and will then be about the size of a small pea. You may also want to use a brush or flea comb to check through the dog’s fur, stopping if you hit a bump or snag. Do not pull or force the comb over the bump, stop to see what the bump is before proceeding (pulling part of the tick’s body out can be damaging). You will also want to check the skin for areas that appear red or irritated, and watch your dog for any signs of excessive scratching or licking in any particular areas. This can be a sign that a tick has attached itself to the skin in this spot.
The ears are another particularly attractive area for ticks to lodge, as they are dark, moist and hidden. Check the ears thoroughly, inside and out, during every inspection. If your dog is shaking his head continuously and you can’t see anything in the outer ear canal, your vet can inspect the inner canal of the ear more closely with a special instrument called an otoscope.
Can clean dogs get ticks?
Yes - it is a myth that only dirty pets get ticks. The tick doesn't care if your pet is clean, dirty, long haired, short haired, straight haired, curly haired, wet or dry. All the tick wants is to feed on the blood of that animal.
When do dogs get ticks in UK?
Dogs or any pet can get ticks at any time of the year in the UK if the temperature is above 3.5 degrees centigrade. However ticks are more abundant in late spring to early summer and again during the autumn.
How to prevent ticks on dogs
There are lots of safe products on the market to prevent ticks on dogs: from spot-ons and sprays, to special collars impregnated with substances that infiltrate into the fatty layer in your dog's skin, killing ticks when they attempt to feed and get their first mouthful of anti-parasitically treated blood.
Humans out and about enjoying countryside walks should always tuck trousers into socks to help prevent ticks directly latching onto skin, and on returning home, especially from areas such as parks and woodlands, check all over yours and your pet's body for signs of any visitors.
Tips to prevent ticks on you and your pets
Given their capacity to carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick prevention is a must if you're spending time in wooded areas. These anti-tick tips are for humans and animals
- Before you go outdoors, use a repellent with DEET on your skin (not for pets). DEET is the common name for N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide or diethyltoluamide, and is the most common active ingredient in insect repellents.
- Know where to expect ticks. Ticks live in moist and humid environments, particularly in or near wooded or grassy areas.
- As ticks prefer long grass and vegetation, while out walking with your dog, wear suitable clothing, i.e. not shorts where ticks are likely to live.
- Products containing permethrin kill ticks but overdosing can cause toxic signs in both dogs and cats.
- Carry a tick removal tool and antiseptic wipes.
- Walk in the centre of paths and avoid over-hanging vegetation at the edge of paths where ticks may be waiting.
- Have a 'tick buddy' to help you check your body and be your dog's 'tick buddy'.
- Deter ticks from gardens: keep leaf litter to a minimum, grass short, vegetation cut back, and seating and play equipment away from borders, trees and bird feeders.
- Keep pets tick free using tick-control products.
- Treat pet accessories with repellents too.
- Groom pets thoroughly: make sure you brush against, as well as with, the hair growth to see any embedded ticks. Check inside the ears, around the eyes, on the chin and around the muzzle, as well as between pads and toes.
- Don't bring ticks home: take off outer clothes before going indoors. Tests have demonstrated that ticks can survive a full cycle in the washing machine and short periods in a dryer.
How do you kill a tick?
There are a number of ways for killing ticks on pets.
You can use over the counter spot-on medication which can be a very effective method for controlling both ticks and fleas.
Pills that are given once a month are readily available for dogs. These medications can work to kill both ticks and immature fleas and will disrupt the life cycle of fleas. They are easy to give and you won’t have to be concerned about small children and cats coming into contact with dogs immediately after application, as you might with spot-on treatments.
Tick collars are collars that repel ticks and you can use them as an additional preventive measure against ticks. But as they are a collar they're mainly only useful for protecting the neck and head from ticks.
Tick shampoos are an inexpensive (although labour intensive) way to treat ticks and help prevent them too. Bathing your dog with a shampoo that contains medicated ingredients will generally kill ticks on contact. During the peak tick seasons, you may have to wash your dog in tick treatment shampoo approx. every 2 weeks as the effective ingredients don't last as long as spot-on treatments or oral medication.
This is not a food and it has some warnings to heed... Tick dip is a concentrated chemical that should be diluted in water before being applied to the animal’s fur with a sponge or poured over the back. This treatment is not meant to be rinsed off after application. The chemicals used in tick dips can be very strong, so you must read the labels carefully before use. You should not use a dip for very young animals (under four months) or for pregnant or nursing pets. Ask your vet for advice before treating puppies, or pregnant or nursing pets.
Tick Removing Tools
By far the easiest, safest and most effective way to remove a tick from your pet is by using a tool called a ‘tick twister.’ These are small plastic picks with a claw-shaped head which slots between the body of the tick and your pet, giving you the leverage to twist the tick harmlessly and effectively out of your pet’s skin in one piece. If you’ve ever taken your pet to the vet to have a tick removed, this is almost certainly the tool which your vet or veterinary nurse will have used. Most vets sell tick twisters over the counter, or you can order one from a variety of retailers online. It’s a handy piece of kit to have in reserve!
Or, use a pair of blunt needle-nose tweezers to remove the tick. Grasp the tick as close to your pet’s skin as you can - don't take hold of the body of the tick or squeeze the body, as this can kill the tick, leaving the front part of the head embedded under the skin releasing toxins. Then gently and with a consistent pressure, twist and lever the tick away from the skin. Do not apply too much force, because as mentioned, you do not want the head of the tick to break off under the skin.
How not to remove ticks
- Do not simply brush, scrape or pull the tick forcibly off the skin. This can lead to the tick’s probe breaking off under the surface of the skin and leading to a range of potential infections and problems.
- Please don't just leave the tick alone for your pet to deal with - this is cruel and can lead to infections.
- Do not remove the tick with bare hands or your fingernails. Ticks can spread diseases and infections such as Lyme disease, to which both you and your pet may be vulnerable.
- Do not attempt to burn or singe the tick off.
- Do not spray the tick with an insecticide or toxin.
- Do not use alcohol to remove a tick, nor attempt to suffocate the tick using a layer of Vaseline or soap.
If you have any questions, please do contact our pet care team and we'll be happy to help.