There is no sense in denying it, ticks are horrible little critters! Apart from the itchiness, discomfort and risk of anaemia to your pet and, in extreme cases, these pests can transmit diseases like Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever that can lead to terrible illnesses to both pets and humans.
This article aims to give you an idea of what ticks are, how to prevent your pet picking up any ticks and what to do should they become the victim of these parasites.
What Are Ticks?
Ticks are arthropods, closely related to mites, rather than most other parasites like fleas and bed bugs. Ticks have been found preserved in amber dating back to the Cretaceous Period (up to 145 million years ago) and have evolved into over 850 different species. The bad news is that so far we have not found any way to control their population by means other than those that also poison humans!
Ticks will happily feed on mammals, birds and even some reptiles. Birds are believed to have been the means by which ticks have spread and a study of birds migrating between Europe and Africa, showed over half had ticks!
Ticks are usually found in thicker vegetation and long grass where their preys' breath and body odours, body heat, moisture and vibrations from the motion of attracts them. Ticks have exteriors that allow them to stick to any animal that brushes by the leaves they are on. Once on a host, a tick will hunt for a good blood supply, usually where the skin is thinnest, then use its mouthparts (palps, chelicerae and hypostomeare) to attached itself to the skin of the dog and the blood meal begins.
Once attached, ticks continue their feast until they are bloated. This blood meal can last for days. The tick will then drop off after it has gorged itself on their victim's blood.
Aside from causing discomfort to your pets, this blood sucking can also lead to the transmission of various pet health complications as any dangerous microorganism living in the tick's body may be transferred to your pet. Ticks carry many diseases that many other parasites don't, you need to make sure you check them for ticks vigilantly.
Ticks are known to act as vectors (carriers) of the following
- Many bacteria (eg Lyme Disease)
- Virus (eg Tick-borne meningoencephalitis)
- Protezoa (eg Babesiosis)
- and even toxins causing paralysis (although there are antitoxins available in regions where this is prevalent)
Luckily if you are vigilant you will have plenty of time to deal with any problems as most diseases require the tick to be attached for a substantial period of time, between 24 and 36 hours depending on the type of infection and species of tick, to transmit the diseases but if left untreated it can be very serious.
How To Find and Identify Ticks on Dogs
Ticks can be black, red or brown in colour and range from 1/8 to 1/2 inch in size and much larger when bloated. Adults have eight legs as they are arachnids, something that distinguishes them from most other parasites which are insects, although they are born with 6 legs and gain the additional after their first blood meal and metamorphosis.
Ticks do not move after attaching the mouthparts to skin, so don't think they are dead or just a bit of dirt.
Areas with less or no hair are the most common places to find ticks on your dog. A few of these include:
- In and around the ears
- The areas where the inside of the legs meet the body
- Between the toes
- Folds of skin
If you don't see any ticks in the usual places, this is a good sign, but it does not mean your dog is free of ticks, it is always better to be safe and check the longer fur too.
You can do this by "shallow combing" your dog with a comb. Shallow combing is necessary as deep combing in the first go can catch the tick leaving the mouthparts in the skin, which can cause your dog serious problems. If you think this may have happened, take your pet to the vet as soon as possible.
Shallow-comb your dog from back to front and try to identify the presence of any tick. If nothing if found in the first attempt of shallow combing, go a little deeper, but more slowly in the second attempt. If you find any little "bumps" along the way, part the air and take a look in good light (with a torch if required).
With any luck your dog will be tick free, but if you find any of them, you will need to deal with them as soon as possible.
How To Remove Ticks From Your Dog
Before we start, please avoid "old-wives tale" style remedies such as covering the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. A tick is nasty and the longer it is attached, the greater the risk of them passing on any diseases they may be carrying. You need to remove the tick as quickly as possible, not sit around and wait for it to release itself.
There are essentially two ways to get rid of ticks. The easiest way to deal with them is to apply some kind of treatment such as a shampoo, powder or topical treatment. However many people do not like to use chemical treatments on their pets or don't want all the effort to remove one or two ticks and choose to take the second option, remove them manually.
We will look at how to do each of these below.
While this type of pest control method tends to be labour intensive, it's often a relatively pocket-friendly solution of mitigating the effects of pests. In most cases, medicated shampoos often comprise ingredients that are perfect for eliminating ticks on contact.
However, the potent ingredients in these shampoo formulas are often effective for as long as they stay on the pet's body. For this reason, this method should be used repeatedly and with the appropriate gear to achieve the best tick-elimination results.
Anti-Tick Topical Sprays
Topical sprays are also another highly effective, and cost effective, way of eliminating ticks from your pet's body. This method involves spraying your pet using equipment that comes with the treatment. We have written a review of some of the best treatments for fleas and ticks here >
These sprays are effective for a good amount of time, which will protect your pet for multiple visits to the woods. However, it's important that you avoid direct inhalation and follow all safety instructions.
Tick Repellent Powders
Tick repellent powders provide long-lasting results and will often work well for the elimination of other notable pests such as fleas.
Removing Ticks With Tweezers
Assuming that your pet has only a few ticks on its skin, or you simply do not wish to use a chemical treatment, you can remove them like this
- Before you start, put on a pair of latex gloves before proceeding with the tick removal as you can contract any disease they may be carrying just as easily as your pet!
- You will also need a jar with a sealable lid with some rubbing alcohol in it to kill the removed tick.
- Use a pair of fine tipped tweezers or tick removal tool to hold the tick`s head where it's attached to the skin of the animal
- Pull the tick smoothly and gently directly away from the skin to ensure that you remove the entire tick without leaving the mouth behind. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off.
- After a few seconds, the tick's mouth will release from the pet's skin and come off. If any of the tick's mouthparts remain, remove them with tweezers as you would a splinter.
- Kill the tick by placing in a container of rubbing alcohol.
- Apply some disinfectant to the affected area
- Keep the removed ticks for a few weeks and consult a vet if your pet shows any signs of illness, lethargy or if you think you have left any of the tick attached to your pet. The removed ticks will give your vet some idea of what the problem may be sure to give them to the vet and tell them when and where they were picked up.
Or if you prefer a video, this shows someone removing a tick from their arm, but the same technique works for dogs.
The first, and most important, thing to keep in mind is that if you recently discovered a tick on their body and your dog becomes ill soon after, consult a vet as soon as possible. Vets can treat a significant number of tick health complications if they can make a timely diagnosis. However, if the issue is left untreated, it may lead to adverse complications and even result in the death of your pet.
Make sure you protect your pet against ticks. If possible keep them away from long grass and undergrowth, which we realise is easier said than done with most energetic pooches!
If they are likely to come into contact with areas where ticks may be prevalent, make sure you treat them with a repellent or long lasting arachnicide. Many of these treatments will mitigate the effects of both fleas and ticks, which is an added benefit.
You may find it helpful to consult a veterinarian to help you choose the best preventive approach for your pet’s breed and coat. Be aware that vets usually charge far more for these medicines than you can find from reputable sources on-line, so be sure to shop around.
Be particularly vigilant in the Spring as this is when most ticks hatch and start looking for their first meal, but the peak tick populations last well into the summer months, so remain wary.
Examine your pet regularly especially during the tick season. Do not neglect this even in the autumn and winter months, or even if you live in a tick-free area. So if your pet has been romping outside, ensure that you examine him for ticks as soon as possible
Finally if you do find ticks on your pet, remove them as soon as possible. Treat them with one of the arachnicides detailed above or follow the instructions above to remove them. If you take the latter route, never remove ticks from your pet without wearing protective gloves as this can lead to an increased risk of contracting Lyme disease, a very nasty disease.