Ticks on Dogs: Signs, Removal & Natural Prevention
There’s nothing like taking your pup for a long, well-deserved romp in the woods...only to discover later that your dog has picked up a few unwelcome “friends” along the way. Ticks are more than just a nuisance, however. Many species transmit diseases, and unfortunately, both humans and canines are susceptible—and even when they’re benign, it’s just kind of gross to be pulling them out of your dog’s fur.
Fortunately, ticks are highly visible and easy to remove once you know how. Additionally, there are also a bundle of techniques you can use to keep these bloodsuckers from hitching a ride on your pup’s back—and plenty of products that will stop them in their tracks before you even step outside. Best of all, many of these are made from gentle, all-natural ingredients. Here’s what you need to know to keep your dog footloose and tick-free—and what you can do to make these dangerous arachnids turn tail and flee.
Types of Ticks
We realize that you probably don’t want to be reading a primer on tick taxonomy right now. But some species are much more likely to carry diseases, so it pays to familiarize yourself just a teensy bit with the different types of ticks out there.
There are over 650 known species, so it would be pretty difficult to list them all out here. However, some types of ticks show up a lot more frequently than others. The most common ticks encountered include:
- The American dog tick, is—as you might guess by the name—often found on dogs this side of the pond. Dog ticks live in tall grasses in wet, humid climates, and jump from the tallest blades of grass onto your puppy’s back and back into your home. The adult ticks are identifiable by their chestnut brown color, flecked with white spots or streaks on their back. Once engorged, they turn gray and swell up until they look something like soggy grapes. Dog ticks are frequently harmless, but they can spread canine diseases, such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and the parasite infection known as babesiosis.
- The brown dog tick will bite any dog, not just brown ones; in fact, it vastly prefers canine hosts to human ones. One of its creepier tendencies is that it can actually infest homes, establishing a large population quickly. In fact, they often establish themselves in kennels and doggy daycares—or anywhere where dogs tend to hang around. So if your dog visits these kinds of places, check your home regularly for these little guys. Brown dog ticks also sometimes carry the parasites that cause ehrlichiosis, a “flu-like” ailment in dogs, and a form of anaplasmosis, a bacterial infection that results in lameness, joint pain, fever, lethargy, and lack of appetite. Yikes!
- Deer ticks, one of the worst species around, carry Lyme disease, an infectious illness which can progress into kidney failure or cause issues with the heart and nervous system, in rare cases. Deer ticks are itsy-bitsy, measuring about the size of a pinhead, so they’re fairly difficult to find on your dog. The good news is that not all deer ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. For your dog to contract it, he or she would have to be bitten by an infected deer tick. Additionally, the deer tick then has to cling to your dog for at least 48 hours before your baby can become infected themselves—so if you’re diligent about tick removal and prevention, you probably have little to worry about. And lastly, even if your dog happens to be unlucky enough to be exposed to B. burgdorferi, the bacteria transmitted by infected deer ticks, only about 10 percent of canines ever contract Lyme disease. So the odds are in your favor.
Signs That Your Dog Has Ticks
Of course, just because your dog isn’t likely to contract a tick-borne disease doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still do your best to keep your dog parasite-free and happy. Besides being dangerous to puppy’s health, ticks cause itching, irritation and are just, well, kind of icky. And since some bacterial issues take a couple of days to develop, it’s imperative that you find these suckers fast and get them off your dog as quickly as possible.
Luckily, there are a few tip offs you can use to tell if one of these arachnids has made your dog its host. First and foremost, you’ll know it’s possible that your dog may have ticks if you find one around the house. That may seem obvious, but where there’s one tick, there are usually more, so that’s a pretty good sign that you need to take your dog outside and check him or her over for ticks (more on that in a moment). Other symptoms commonly associated with ticks include:
- Your pup is shaking his or her head or pawing at his or her ears. Ticks are frequently found in this area, since they like to burrow into dark, hidden spots. In fact, tick bites on the ears can become infected, making those spots itchy, painful and downright uncomfortable for your dog. Your poor pup’s response will be to shake and scratch, trying to fix the problem the only way he or she knows how.
- Your dog seems extra itchy lately. Our four-legged friends don’t like to be bitten by ticks any more than we do, and will usually do what they can to scratch them loose. Similarly, if your dog is biting themselves or has visible scabs on their body from itching and chewing, that might be a sign too.
- If you find bumps on the surface of your dog’s skin, that’s a fairly good indicator that your pup has been bit. While bumpy, irritated skin can arise from a variety of different issues, a single small bump—especially if Rover has recently been out in the grass—signals that a tick may have been in the vicinity.
Checking Your Dog for Ticks
Your pup will be a lot happier—and safer!—if you inspect them for ticks regularly, especially after playing in a grassy area where these bad boys are likely to congregate. Luckily, it’s not too difficult to catch these mini-vampires in the act. Most ticks are big enough that you’ll be able to see them on your dog’s body or at least feel them when you run your hands over them. Additionally, once they attach themselves, ticks tend to stay in one spot. That makes them a lot easier to remove by hand than other parasites, like fleas.
So how do you check your dog? Use your fingers like a comb, brushing over your puppy’s entire body. Pay special attention to your dog’s ears, groin and behind, too. These spots are like tick cabanas, since they’re usually drawn to damp, dark areas.
For an extra thorough inspection, use a fine-toothed flea comb to brush through your pet’s coat—your furry friend will no doubt love the extra grooming. If you come across a bump or tangle, remove the comb gently and part the fur for a closer look. If it is indeed a tick, use the steps outlined below to safely remove the offending arachnid.
Removing ticks is no fun—for humans and for our fur babies—but it’s absolutely vital to protect Rover from dangerous diseases. Remember, a tick that isn’t removed right away can do a lot more harm than one that’s just clamped on, so you want to get it taken care of as soon as possible.
That said, however, you don’t want to go just pulling them off willy nilly. If a tick is infected with disease-causing bacteria and its blood comes into contact with your dog’s skin, your poor pup could go from itchy and unhappy to very sick indeed. So you should always approach the removal gingerly, using tweezers. Use the tweezers to grab the tick, and try to angle them close to the skin, near the tick’s head. Of course, you’ll want to try to avoid pinching your pup in the process. Now pull away delicately, without too much force. Squeezing the tick can release harmful pathogens into your dog’s bloodstream, so you want to do this as carefully as you can.
Afterwards, check that you’ve gotten the entire tick, since it’s possible for the head to remain in place, which leaves your dog vulnerable to disease. If you need to, repeat the removal until the entire body of the tick is gone.
If you prefer to avoid the tweezer method altogether, an even easier solution is to apply Wondercide’s natural flea & tick spray to kill the tick by contact. Once you directly spray the tick and your dog’s entire body, allow the solution to work for awhile, then you can then go in and simply remove the tick from your pup’s fur.
Next, grab a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball or Q-tip and use them to clean around the bite. You can also apply a topical antibacterial ointment, as well, especially if the area looks irritated. There will likely be a small, red bump left behind after the tick is gone. This is normal, and it’s usually gone after a few days.
However, if the bite mark looks infected, or if your dog starts to act kind of funny, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as you can. In particular, watch out if Rover seems extra lethargic or isn’t getting excited about dinner, since these can be signs of bigger complications. If you see one of these symptoms, call your vet right away.
Preventing Ticks in the Future
You know what they say: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And that’s definitely true when it comes to keeping parasites off your precious waggly-tailed bundle of joy.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to keep your fur baby safe and tick-free—without slathering them with potentially dangerous chemicals. In fact, one of the simplest things you can do is to care for and manage your lawn. Mow it often and thoroughly, since ticks love to hide out on long blades of grass. You can even get extra protection with a flea and tick spray for your yard. These all-natural products, made from cedar oil and other gentle compounds, kill and repel ticks, fleas and other insects in your garden and lawn and make a safe and effective alternative to conventional pesticides. You can even spray them with a hose while you water. Win-win!
Another way is to try to avoid grassy, untended areas all together, particularly if you live in the southern or eastern parts of the US, where ticks tend to flourish. And especially take care during tick season, which usually occurs, sadly, when the weather is most agreeable for long walks. Ticks are most active between March to mid-May and again from mid-August to November, so you may want to skip any romps scheduled in grassy fields during these parts of the year unless you are taking preventative measures.
Prescription medications and topical sprays can be very effective too. Your vet can prescribe over-the-counter parasite prevention that work well on ticks too. Of course, some animals may have an adverse reaction to these products, so they’re not right for every pup in the kennel. Meanwhile, these prevention methods contain pesticides that may be harmful for your puppy and the Earth, so using them definitely comes with certain risks.
Topical treatments, like flea and tick spray, offer a far more convenient solution. Made without pesticides, you can simply spray and play before you go out in the woods to naturally repel ticks, and their buddies, the common flea. They rely on cedar oil, a naturally occurring substance that interrupts ticks’ octopamine. Ticks use octopamine to regulate their heart rate, so they need it to survive. Block this compound from their neurotransmitters and they just won’t be able to deal! You can even spray the solution around areas where your pooch likes to rest to kill off any ticks that might have followed you indoors.
A flea and tick shampoo bar, on the other hand, starts working on ticks before you even get out of the house. Use this shampoo bar for your pup’s regular bath to help prevent tick and flea attacks out in the world. Made with powerful yet gentle oils, natural insect repellants like geranium oil and citronella have no chemicals but will help keep your pooch safe on your jaunt through the park. Walks without worry? Now there’s something that will make your tail wag!