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How to Check Your Dog for Ticks

Written by Anna Hollisey

Updated

spaniel having a good old scratch

What are ticks, where do they live, and… whyyyyy? Join us for a tour of Tick World (and learn how to prevent and remove them). If you have a sensitive disposition, look away now… 

Ticks. Why?

Ticks belong to a group of creatures with no apparent purpose in life. They’re very annoying and transmit disease between animals and humans, bringing no joy or benefit to their ‘hosts’. 

Why must they exist? According to the experts, ticks form part of our elaborate eco-system and they’re eaten by spiders, ants, chickens and opossums, who need a diverse range of food sources to survive. 

Now that you’re feeling itchy, it seems a good time to discuss….

Ticks You May Meet

Although they’re commonly found on our canine friends, ticks can also attach themselves to people, deer, squirrels, birds and opossums.

There are hundreds of types of tick around the world but four common species to watch out for:

American Dog Tick

Native to North America, this charming fellow feeds on the domestic dog. Ranging from about 5-15mm, it’s fond of long grass and will bite humans as well as pets. It can carry diseases – look out for a rash at the site of the bite.

Brown Dog Tick

This guy will bite humans when desperate – it really loves rabbits, deer, and canine ears and toes. The Brown Dog Tick likes long grass and shrubs in warmer conditions and will happily settle indoors if they can get a lift from a passing dog. If it gets in, it’s the worst: laying thousands of eggs, this tick can survive for months without food. It also carries disease which can cause shock, fever or rashes. 

Lone Star Tick

Despite its cool name, this tick has a toxic bite which can cause an allergy to develop in humans. It’s an outdoor roamer measuring 4-16mm with silver markings; like most ticks, this one lurks in long grass, shrubs and logs. It carries several viruses including tularemia. 

Black-legged or Deer Tick

This tick is smaller (around 3mm) but carries Lyme Disease and is rife during the warmer months. They live on deer, cats or dogs but will also bite humans. If you’ve found one, quick removal is key.

How To Check Your Dog for Ticks 

Ticks aren’t fast thinkers. They may wait in the long grass for a passing host, but it can take them hours to start feeding – so quick identification can save the day. If your dog has been in long grass, particularly in an area which may also be frequented by deer, raccoons, opossums, rabbits or squirrels, it’s worth checking them for ticks before heading indoors. 

Your dog won’t mind being checked. It’s just like being petted. Sit them down and part the fur around their head, face, neck and joints to check for ticks. Run your hands against the direction of growth to lift fur and get a good view of the skin. If your dog is shaking their head, check inside their ears. Usually, ticks are large enough to spot with the naked eye; your fingers may find them while stroking your dog. They’re not subtle.

If you’ve ever found a tick, you may know that they love certain parts of the dog’s body. Some like to attach themselves to the spine, others prefer ears, and many will latch on to the dog’s face. Did you know that ticks like to nestle between toes and under armpits, too? 

tick on dogs toe

Found one? Take care in removal. Ticks typically burrow into the flesh and if you haphazardly pull one off, there’s a risk that their mouth parts will be left behind and cause infection. And if they’re stressed, they are likely to regurgitate blood and disease into the flesh. You can buy a specialist tick removal tool, which is worth having on-hand. If you don’t have one, you can use tweezers to pull the tick firmly away from the skin. But you need to do it right. Find detailed directions about removing ticks here.

We know you’ll now want to destroy the tick as soon as possible. But hold on… it's worth putting the tick into a plastic bag (tightly sealed, of course) so that your vet can identify it. Some species carry different diseases, and it’s also helpful for your community to be aware if there is an infestation in the vicinity. 

Ticks can cause a circular, ‘bullseye’, or random rash, which comes with itchiness and redness. 

In dogs, Lyme disease can cause symptoms such as fever, lethargy and a limp. It’s a serious chronic illness which can last a lifetime, which is why veterinarians always recommend that we treat our dogs with regular tick prevention. 

In humans, the response to a tick bite can include fever, rash, headache and muscle aches. 

There are many different tick prevention treatments on the market. How can you know what’s best?

The main options include topical treatments, chews, and collars which dispense medication. Although topical treatments like Frontline are still popular, many vets now recommend oral medications that infiltrate the dog’s bloodstream and kill ticks as soon as they bite. Oral options like Bravecto, NexGuard or Advocate are among the best, provided your dog does not have any digestive or gastrointestinal issues. 

Prevention is better than cure, and there’s more you can do to avoid the dreaded tick infestation. Ticks love to lurk in your yard: some of their favorite places are log piles, long grass, leaf-heaps, and mounds of old birdseed. Burgeoning during the summer months, the tick population can grow to thousands very quickly. 

Here are some preventative jobs to improve your living environment:

  • Carry out a risk assessment in your yard. Ticks love warm, sheltered conditions where they can climb up and hop on to larger hosts. They’ll travel anywhere that rats, birds, squirrels or deer might go. 
  • Clear away old wood and unused garden furniture.
  • Tidy away old birdseed and rake up fallen leaves. 
  • Keep trash in closed bins.
  • Keep grass trimmed, even around the periphery of your yard.
  • While working in the yard, tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants!