All About Ticks and Dogs

The Dangers of Ticks to You and Your Dog

dogs and ticks
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Does the thought of ticks turn your stomach? If you find a tick on your dog, it can leave you feeling disgusted and worried. You may be concerned that your dog is in danger from ticks. Do you know the risks ticks pose to you and your family?

Ticks are an indisputably dreaded enemy. No one wants to find ticks anywhere near the family dog. You certainly don't want a tick on or near you! Besides the obvious “icky” factor, ticks are bad news because they may transmit diseases and even cause anemia or paralysis. As a dog owner, there are some basics you should know about the risks of ticks, as well as their removal and prevention. With proper knowledge, you can help protect your dog from the threat of ticks.

What Are Ticks?

Ticks are parasitic arthropods that feed on the blood of their hosts. They are attracted to warmth and motion, often seeking out mammals. This includes people, dogs, and cats.

Ticks tend to hide out in tall grass or plants in wooded areas waiting for prospective hosts. When a host is found, the tick climbs on and attaches its mouthparts into the skin, beginning a blood meal. Once locked in place, the tick will not detach until its meal is complete. It may continue to feed for several hours to days, depending on the type of tick.

On dogs, ticks often attach themselves in crevices and/or areas with little to no hair, typically in and around the ears, the areas where the insides of the legs meet the body, between the toes, and inside skin folds.

Most species of ticks go through four life stages: eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adults. All stages beyond eggs will attach to a host for a blood meal. In fact, they must do so in order to mature. Depending on species, the lifespan of a tick can be several months to years. Female adults can lay hundreds to thousands of eggs at a time. Familiarize yourself with the ticks most commonly seen in North America.

  • Deer tick
  • Brown dog tick
  • Lone star tick
  • American dog tick

The Dangers of Ticks

Though they are known vectors of disease, not all ticks transmit disease. Many ticks carry no diseases at all. However, the threat of disease is always present where ticks are concerned, and these risks should be taken seriously. Most tick-borne diseases will take several hours to transmit to a host, so the sooner a tick is located and carefully removed, the lower the risk of disease.

The symptoms of most tick-borne diseases include fever and lethargy. Some tick-borne diseases can also cause weakness, lameness, joint swelling and/or anemia. Signs may take days, weeks, or even months to appear.

Some ticks can cause a temporary condition called tick paralysis, which is manifested by a gradual onset of difficulty walking that may develop into paralysis. These signs typically begin to resolve soon after the tick is removed.

If you notice these or any other signs of illness in your dog, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible so that proper testing and necessary treatments can begin. There are several known tick-borne diseases that can affect dogs. Many can also affect humans.

What Can You Do About Ticks?

If you live in a region where ticks are found, you should check your dog for ticks after coming in from the outdoors, especially if he has been in a wooded area. Ticks should be safely removed and dogs watched for signs of tick-borne illnesses. Your veterinarian may recommend blood testing to look for tick-borne diseases if your dog is showing signs of illness and has potential tick exposure.

Dogs at risk for ticks should be treated with some form of tick prevention. There are many tick prevention products on the market and new ones come out all the time. Ask your vet about the safest, most effective tick prevention products available. Be sure to use tick prevention as directed. It's still important to check for tick even if your dog is on prevention. If you start finding many attached ticks, it may mean the product is not working.

illustration of things to know about dogs and ticks
Illustration: Theresa Chiechi. © The Spruce, 2018