Puppies and Ticks: Signs, Treatment and Prevention

Removing and Preventing Ticks

Puppy in the grass
Keep pups out of long grass or mow it short to cut down on tick infestations. Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

There are more than 850 types of ticks recognized worldwide but only a few cause problems in pets in North America. the American dog tick and brown dog tick, the black-legged tick and lone star tick are the most usual culprits. Ticks cause allergies and prompt hot spots and carry a host of organisms able to transmit such disease as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and babesiosis that makes pets and people sick.

Tick Life Cycle

Ticks are amazingly adaptable, which makes them extremely difficult to control. These spider relatives also spend most of their life cycle in the environment. They can remain dormant for months, and a single female can lay four thousand eggs.

Three-host ticks prefer a different type of animal with each life stage. For instance, the tick that transmits Lyme prefers small rodents as larvae, larger animals like raccoons, cats and humans as nymphs. And as adults, they prefer deer but will settle for cattle, coyotes, dogs and other wildlife. The tick can be infected in either the larval or nymph stage when it bites an infected rodent, and then transmit Lyme to other victims it bites.

Eggs hatch into tiny six-legged larvae that suck blood, drop off the host to molt into eight-legged nymphs, and again seek a blood meal before dropping off the host and molting into the adult stage. Adult ticks usually must feed before mating.

You'll see the tick body swell like a leathery balloon, with the head buried beneath the puppy's skin. Often the tick prefers the face and ear regions that are hard for the pet to scratch off, but ticks can be found all over your pet's body.

Pet Lifestyle

Ticks thrive in long grass or wooded habitats.

So the lifestyle of your puppy determines exposure. Does your pet enjoy an indoor-outdoor lifestyle, or is Fluffy confined to the apartment? If the hunting dog roams the fields or enjoys outings on a leash in the yard, it's at risk for pests. Age and health also influence the type of product you should choose. Look at the label to make sure the tick protection says it's safe for your individual pets. Some are not safe for puppies. The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends year-round protection against fleas and ticks.

Removing and Preventing Ticks

Just handing ticks can spread the disease to you, if you see a tick, use gloves or a tissue to remove it. It's even better to use blunt nose tweezers and grasp the tick body close to the puppy's skin and tick mouth parts and pull straight out--gently and slowly. A tiny bit of flesh nearly always comes away with the tick's head. If the head remains buried, don't worry, the skin will either absorb it or reject the foreign matter in a day or two. If you live in a Lyme disease area and need to have the tick analyzed you can place it in a plastic bag with a moistened cotton swab and take to your vet for analysis.

For outdoor habitats, cut the grass short to allow sunlight to shoo away the bugs.

Since the Lyme-carrying tick likes mice and deer hosts, clearing away vegetation that attracts these critters also helps eliminate the ticks. Keeping your pets from problem areas and treating the bug habitats helps reduce the pest population. Vacuum inside and wash puppy bedding regularly.

A better understanding of parasite biology also helped develop active ingredients that attack bug nervous system. Many of the current flea products also protect puppies against ticks. Ask your veterinarian how best to protect your puppy in the bug wars.