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My dog has a tick. What should I do?

Tick bites on dogs do happen in the UK. Unfortunately ticks could pose a risk for dogs, as they settle on and suck the blood of various animals. The tick could have previously bitten a sick animal and then transmits the disease to the next host. In the UK the most common tick borne diseases in dogs are Lyme disease and Anaplasma.

Where do dogs pick up ticks?

These days ticks on dogs have become much more common than in the past. Previously ticks were mostly found in tall grass, but today they occur almost anywhere. Even in an urban environment a dog could pick up a tick on the roadside, or even in your own garden.

Ticks become active as soon as the outside temperature rises above 7°C. This means that you can expect ticks from around the beginning of March until at least the end of October. Ticks are usually hidden in the grass, and often in the shade. These parasites are so small that you usually won’t spot them - so it's not as though you can pull your dog out of the tick’s way.

So it is important to check your dog for ticks or tick bites regularly. Preferably once a day, but at least once a week. You can do this by combing your dog after they have been outside. Ticks prefer to live on the warmest parts of dogs, like the neck, ears and groin area. Once you discover a tick on your dog you should remove it as soon as possible. The longer a tick is attached to your dog’s skin, the greater the risk that they might become infected.

Identifying tick bites on dogs

There is a good chance that you will miss ticks on dogs, because they are very small. Furthermore, tick bites are difficult to spot, especially in dogs with long hair. Your dog won’t realise that they are being bitten by a tick so won’t show any signs of a potential problem.

Fortunately, there are a few things you could look out for if your suspect ticks on dogs. Firstly, you should keep an eye out for different types of bumps. Initially ticks are very small but as soon as it is engorged with blood its body grows. Eventually the tick’s body can be up to one centimetre long.

You can also find ticks by feeling for them. While every dog's skin has some irregularities, you will be able to feel when a tick has attached itself to your dog’s skin. Slowly run your hands over your dog's body and check for any lumps or bumps. You don't have to be a vet to distinguish a mole from a tick bite. You could also look at images online to help you identify tick bites on dogs.

How to remove a tick from a dog

There is only one correct way to remove ticks on dogs, and that is with special tick removal tweezers. Some sources say you can use ordinary tweezers, but that's not recommended. With tick removal tweezers you can get the right action to increase the likelihood of removing the tick completely. Normal tweezers often leave part of the tick's head under the skin.

While removing ticks on dogs, be careful not to squeeze the tick’s body. This is filled with blood and when you squeeze it you could pump the blood back into your dog’s body. This increases the risk of infection with a tick-borne disease.

To remove ticks on dogs, follow these steps:

  1. Open the tick removal tweezers
  2. Place the points around the tick, as close as possible to the dog’s skin
  3. Gently close the tweezers
  4. Rotate the tweezers until you see the tick pulling away from the skin
  5. Check whether the tick has completely released the skin
  6. Dispose of the tick somewhere it can’t crawl out of, like a sealed dustbin or the sink.
  7. Disinfect the tick bite site with betadine or iodine
  8. Disinfect the tick remover by placing it in boiling water

Following these steps for how to remove a tick from a dog will ensure that no part of the tick stays behind and that your dog won’t feel any pain.

What happens if ticks on dogs are not completely removed?

Removing a tick from a dog is quite a tricky job and it often doesn’t work out as planned. You might not succeed in removing the tick completely and parts of the head or mouth might remain under the skin.

Once a tick’s body has been removed they are dead and can no longer transmit any disease. However, you need to keep an eye on the tick bite site because the remaining parts of a tick could cause an infection.

Always disinfect the area properly. You can do this by soaking a ball of cotton wool in betadine or iodine and then holding it down on the bite for a while. There are also other disinfectants specifically designed for pets. Don’t disinfect the site with alcohol, as this will irritate the area and increase inflammation.

If you are unsure, contact your vet. They can tell you what to do or help you remove the residue.

Don’t try to remove the remaining parts of the tick. Several online sources suggest that you do this with tweezers, but this could increase the risk of an infection. Lubricating the area with petroleum jelly or acetone also doesn’t work either, it will only irritate your dog's skin.

Preventing tick bites on dogs

Many dog owners dislike removing ticks on dogs. They might be afraid of hurting their four-legged friend or are worried that their dog might still get sick if they leave parts of the tick behind.

Prevention is always better than cure and one of the simplest solutions is a tick and flea collar for dogs. This prevents ticks from settling on your dog and it also repels fleas. Your dog wears a tick and flea collar just like any other collar. The collar’s effect lasts for about eight months so you don’t have to replace it often.

There are also topical treatments that are applied between your dog’s shoulder blades to repel ticks and fleas. The disadvantage of these treatments, compared to collars, is that you have to apply it more often. Your dog will attract ticks again as soon as the effect wears off and it is difficult to predict when this will be.

Before you use any tick repellent, always read the package insert carefully. This will ensure that you use the product correctly so that your dog is fully protected. If you are still not sure how to use the product or how to apply it, contact your vet for guidance.

Furthermore, to be on the safe side, you could take your tick removing tweezers along when taking your dog for a walk. Attach it to your dog’s lead or your key ring and you will always be prepared to step in right away when necessary.

Symptoms of diseases from tick bites on dogs

You might have missed a tick and your dog could become ill. Fortunately dogs rarely get sick from tick bites in the UK. However, consider the possibility if your dog becomes less active, loses their appetite, develops a fever, is in pain, or their legs become stiff.

The following are some of the possible diseases from tick bites on dogs:

Lyme disease

Just like humans, dogs can get Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick. This infection can usually be identified by a red circle around the tick bite. Note, however, that your dog could have Lyme disease even if no red circle is visible. The first symptoms of Lyme disease are similar to those of flu but then the bacteria could spread to the brain, heart and joints.

Dogs can be treated successfully for Lyme disease, but this requires early diagnosis and treatment. Otherwise Lyme disease could lead to chronic illness or even be fatal. Puppies from twelve weeks old can be vaccinated against Lyme disease and the vaccine needs to be boosted annually.

Canine Babesiosis

This condition is very rare in the UK, but cases have increased slightly in recent years. Babesiosis, also called tick fever, affects a dog's red blood cells. This infection is only transmitted by the Dermacentor tick, but their numbers have been increasing in certain coastal areas of the UK.

The first symptoms of Babesiosis appear ten days to three weeks after the bite. The symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • High fever<
  • Increased heart rate
  • Reddish-brown coloured urine

The infection can be treated with injections if diagnosed early. Once again, the sooner you visit the vet, the greater the chances of a full recovery.

Ehrlichiosis

Ehrlichiosis infects a dog's white blood cells. The disease is transmitted by Rhipicephalus Sanguineus ticks, which are common mainly in southern Europe.

Ehrlichiosis affects the production of normal blood cells. This could cause a wide range of symptoms, which include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Swollen glands
  • Blood in the urine
  • Painful muscles and joints
  • Eye infections

Some dogs recover from ehrlichiosis without treatment. In older and weaker dogs, however, the infection could become chronic and the condition reappears whenever the dog’s immune system is under strain. With an early diagnosis, Ehrlichiosis can be treated by your vet and your dog will most likely recover fully.

Anaplasma

Nearly one percent of all ticks in the UK carry Anaplasma bacteria. These are the same ticks that transmit Lyme disease to dogs. The anaplasma bacteria infect your dog in just a little over one day. This emphasises why it pays to check for ticks on dogs regularly and why you should always have tick removal tweezers at home.

An infection with Anaplasma causes a shortage of blood platelets and your dog will show flu-like symptoms. Fortunately anaplasma in dogs does not require treatment although the illness will still be most unpleasant for your dog. Your dog will be sick for a week or two until their body produces enough antibodies to fight the infection.

Prevention is always better than cure. Protecting your dog against ticks could save a lot of heartache.

Also read our blog about “ Common health issues in dogs and cats ” and learn more about the recognition of your pet's body language to recognise how your dog is doing.

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