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Ticks on Dogs: Risks, Prevention, and How to Remove Parasites

Haley photo


July 21, 2023

Dog Enrichment

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* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Ticks are the definition of creepy crawly — and their reputation for carrying diseases like Lyme makes them especially hated among dog parents. While no one wants to find any sort of parasite on their beloved pet, the reality is that at some point you probably will, especially if you and your four-legged friend love to adventure together.

Here’s what dog owners need to know about tick borne illness and other risks, tick bite prevention, and tick removal!

Risks: Why ticks are dangerous for your dog

The greatest risk of a tick bite is that your dog will contract a tick-borne disease.

Ticks can carry diseases like Lyme

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is primarily transmitted to dogs through the bite of infected black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks. These parasites become infected with the bacterium when they feed on infected wildlife like deer or rodents.

When an infected tick bites a dog and remains attached long enough — typically 24 to 48 hours — it can transmit the Lyme disease-causing bacteria into the dog's bloodstream. Once infected, dogs can experience various symptoms, such as fever, lameness, joint swelling, lethargy, and inappetence.

In some cases, Lyme disease can lead to more severe health issues if left untreated.

Other common tick-borne diseases include:

  • Ehrlichiosis: This disease is caused by the bacterium Ehrlichia canis and is transmitted by the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum). Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, joint pain, and bleeding disorders.
  • Anaplasmosis: Caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum, anaplasmosis is transmitted primarily by the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus). Symptoms may include fever, lethargy, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes bleeding disorders.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF): Caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii, this disease is transmitted by various ticks, including the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) and the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni). Symptoms can include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, joint pain, and a characteristic rash.

Are tick borne illnesses treatable?

Tick-borne illnesses in dogs are generally treatable, especially if diagnosed and treated early. The specific treatment will depend on the type of tick-borne disease and its severity. Some tick-borne diseases can be more challenging to treat — but with appropriate veterinary care, many dogs can recover successfully.

The most common treatments for tick-borne illnesses in dogs include:

Antibiotics: Bacterial tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are often treated with antibiotics. The type and duration of antibiotic treatment will vary depending on the specific disease and its severity.

Antiprotozoal medications: Diseases caused by protozoans, such as babesiosis and hepatozoonosis, may require antiprotozoal medications to target the parasites responsible for the illness.

Supportive care: In some cases, dogs with tick-borne diseases may require supportive care to get better, which can include fluid therapy, pain management, and other measures to alleviate symptoms and support the dog's overall health during the recovery period.

Blood transfusions: Dogs with severe cases of tick-borne diseases, especially babesiosis, may require blood transfusions to address anemia and other related complications.

Follow-up monitoring: After treatment, follow-up monitoring and check-ups with your veterinarian are essential to ensure that the dog has fully recovered and to address any potential complications.

How to prevent your dog from getting ticks

Prevention is always better than treatment when it comes to tick-borne illnesses.

Consider routine monthly preventatives

Monthly tick preventatives can be highly effective in preventing tick-borne illnesses in dogs. These preventatives come in various forms like spot-on treatments, oral tablets, and collars.

The active ingredients in tick preventatives target ticks at different life stages to reduce the risk of disease transmission.  They work by either killing ticks before they can transmit diseases or by preventing ticks from attaching and feeding on the dog long enough to transmit pathogens.

When used as directed and administered regularly, these preventatives can significantly reduce the chances of your dog contracting tick-borne illnesses.

If you live in or plan to visit an area with a high tick population, it's important to discuss tick preventatives with your veterinarian. They can recommend the most suitable product based on your dog's specific needs and health status, your budget, and your personal preferences.

Avoid environments where ticks thrive

Ticks can be found throughout the United States, but their prevalence and the specific tick species vary depending on the region and climate:

  • Deer ticks are especially prevalent in the northeastern, north-central, and Pacific coastal regions of the United States. States like Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are known for having significant black-legged tick populations.
  • The brown dog tick is distributed throughout the United States and is particularly common in warmer regions. It is often found in homes and kennels and can be a problem in areas with mild winters, such as the southern states.

Tick populations can fluctuate from year to year and can also be influenced by various factors, including weather, climate, and wildlife populations. As a general rule, it’s best to assume you and your dog have been exposed to ticks whenever you go outside, especially in warm months.

Check your dog’s skin and coat after being outside

Know that no prevention method is 100% foolproof — so it's essential to remain vigilant and perform regular tick checks on your dog, especially after spending time in tick-prone areas.

What to do if you find a tick on your dog

Even the best prevention falls short sometimes. If you find a tick on your dog — and chances are you will at some point within their lifetime — here’s what to do.

Stay calm!

We know this is easier said than done, especially when you see just how creepy an engorged tick is — but it’s the best thing you can do for your dog. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that you’ve got this, and get ready to help your companion feel better.

Carefully remove the tick

  • Gather the necessary tools: You'll need a pair of fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool. Avoid using your fingers as this may increase the risk of disease transmission.
  • Find a well-lit area: Choose a well-lit area where you can easily see the tick on your dog's skin.
  • Keep your dog still: If your dog is anxious or fidgety, try to keep them as calm as possible during the tick removal process. You may need someone to help hold your dog still if necessary. If you’ve been working on cooperative care skills for handling, this is a great time to put them to use!
  • Use the tweezers or tick removal tool: Grasp the tick as close to your dog's skin as possible with the tweezers or tick removal tool. Be gentle and try not to squeeze or crush the tick.
  • Pull the tick straight out: Steadily and slowly pull the tick straight upward with a steady motion. Do not twist or jerk the tick, as this can cause the mouthparts to break off and remain embedded in the skin.
  • Check for mouthparts: After removing the tick, inspect the area to ensure that you have removed the entire tick, including the mouthparts. If any parts remain, use the tweezers to remove them.
  • Dispose of the tick: Place the tick in a small container with rubbing alcohol to kill it, or flush it down the toilet. Avoid crushing the tick with your fingers.

Keep an eye out for signs of discomfort

Tick-borne diseases can take time to manifest, so it's crucial to stay vigilant for any symptoms of illness in your dog after a tick bite.

When in doubt, contact your vet

If you suspect your dog has been exposed to ticks or is showing any signs of illness, including symptoms like fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, or lameness, it's essential to seek veterinary attention right away. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve the chances of a successful recovery and minimize the risk of complications associated with tick-borne diseases!

Haley photo


July 21, 2023

Dog Enrichment

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