If your puppy spends time in wooded, grassy areas where ticks are prevalent, it is at risk of receiving a tick bite. In most cases, tick bites are harmless, but some ticks carry serious diseases transmittable to your puppy. If a tick bites your puppy, but your puppy exhibits no symptoms, you don't necessarily need to visit your vet. But, if your puppy begins to show symptoms like fever, swollen lymph nodes, or limping after being exposed to a tick-ridden area, visit your vet for a diagnosis. If detected and treated early, you can quickly resolve illness from a tick bite. If left untreated, the results may be fatal. The best way to keep your puppy safe from tick bites is with preventative, anti-tick medication.
What Are Tick Bites?
Tick bites occur when a tick crawls onto an animal or human and sucks its blood. After being latched for several days, the tick's body will swell with blood and fall off. Typically, tick bites are not painful and can go unnoticed until symptoms appear. Most tick bites are benign and will only irritate the skin, but others cause diseases that, if untreated, can result in serious harm to your puppy. These diseases include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and tick paralysis.
There are more than 800 tick species worldwide, but only a few North American ticks will bite your pet. The American dog tick, the brown dog tick, the black-legged tick (deer tick), and the lone star tick are the most likely to harm your puppy.
Symptoms of Tick Bites in Puppies
If you can see an engorged tick on your puppy, it's safe to assume your puppy has been bitten. If the tick has fallen off before you notice it, you will have to wait on the development of symptoms to signal a tick bite has occurred. The symptoms of a tick bite in a puppy are shared with many other conditions, so be mindful of the context in which they occur. If your puppy has been in an area where ticks are prevalent, it's possible it has been bitten by a diseased tick. Symptoms typically don't appear until weeks or months after a bite.
A diseased tick bite can cause a fever up to 105 F. Any diseased tick can transfer an infection that leads to fever. If you notice your puppy panting, shivering, experiencing lethargy, or other signs of discomfort, it might have a fever. Pay a visit to your vet to see if a tick bite is to blame.
Swollen Lymph Nodes
Swollen lymph nodes are symptomatic of many serious conditions in dogs, including a bite from a diseased tick. Look for swelling around your puppy's face and neck.
If your puppy begins to vomit following exposure to a tick-ridden area, it may have been bitten by a diseased tick. Vomiting, often accompanied by diarrhea, can be caused by a variety of illnesses, so take your puppy to the vet to receive a proper diagnosis.
Limping and Lameness
A bite from a diseased tick can cause limping or lameness in your puppy. Lyme disease, for example, often leads to joint inflammation, which affects your puppy's ability to walk comfortably. You may notice that your puppy's limp shifts between legs.
If a tick has bitten your puppy, it may scratch or itch at the bite site. Typically, tick bites are not itchy, so irritation around the bite site may be attributed to infection. Additionally, some redness may be caused by scratching or the bite itself.
The most reliable sign of a tick bite is an enlarged tick attached to your puppy's skin. After a tick has bitten your puppy, it becomes engorged with the drawn blood. If the tick isn't engorged or is still crawling on your puppy, it likely hasn't bitten.
Causes of Tick Bites
Your puppy is at risk of being bitten by a tick if it has been exposed to a tick-ridden area.
- Grassy or wooded habitats: Ticks thrive in grassy and wooded habitats, so your puppy's lifestyle often determines its level of exposure. If your puppy is frequently outdoors in tick-ridden areas, it's at higher risk of being bitten by a tick.
- Humid climates: Ticks are more prevalent in moist, coastal regions. Ticks are also drawn to damp areas on the body, like the underarms and the backs of joints.
Diagnosing Tick Bites in Puppies
If your puppy is not exhibiting symptoms of a diseased tick bite, it is usually not necessary to visit your vet for a diagnosis. However, if your puppy begins exhibiting symptoms following exposure to a tick-ridden area, see your vet. Your vet may run blood tests to check for antibodies caused by tick-borne illness. Lyme disease, caused by diseased tick bites, affects the kidneys, so your vet may run a urinalysis to determine the health of your puppy's organs.
The improper removal of a tick can cause the spread of disease. If you see a tick on your puppy, use gloves to avoid exposure to diseased tick saliva. Blunt-nosed tweezers are best for removing embedded ticks from your puppy's skin. First, grasp the tick close to the puppy's skin and pull straight upward, gently and slowly. The goal is to remove the tick head along with the tick. If you pull off the tick but its head remains burrowed in your puppy's skin, you will have to monitor the area closely for any signs of infection. Be sure to place the tick in a substance like rubbing alcohol to kill it. Do not throw the tick into the trash or return it outdoors, as it can crawl and bite again.
Puppies that have been bitten by a tick won't always need treatment, but your vet may want to run additional diagnostics to determine if treatment is necessary. If your vet suspects disease, your puppy will likely be prescribed a month-long antibiotic. Some severe cases of tick-borne diseases can warrant hospitalization, but if detected and treated early, you can usually avoid this. If your puppy has been bitten, treat the bite site with an antiseptic to prevent skin infection after removing the tick.
Prognosis for Puppies With Tick Bites
Puppies tested and treated early after being bitten by a diseased tick will typically recover completely. The use of antibiotics is effective in resolving disease. If your puppy's diseased tick bite goes untreated, the effects can be lifelong or fatal.
How to Prevent Tick Bites
Using a vet-recommended flea and tick prevention on your dog year-round is essential in protecting your puppy from tick bites. These medications can kill ticks before they can transmit diseases. Ask your vet how best to protect your puppy, as age and preexisting health conditions influence the type of product you should choose.
It's also helpful to keep the grass in your yard short and keep your puppy away from tall grassed areas where ticks are prevalent. Clearing away vegetation in your yard that might contain tick-bearing rodents may also be helpful. In areas with high tick volume, treating the tick's habitat with pet-safe chemicals also helps reduce the pest population. Inside your home, vacuum and wash your puppy's bedding regularly.
How long does it take for symptoms to develop after a tick bite?
It will probably take weeks or months before your puppy develops symptoms from a diseased tick bite. Once the symptoms appear, take your puppy to the vet right away.
Are all tick bites harmful?
Not all tick bites are harmful, but if you find a tick on your puppy, monitor it closely for symptoms. If your puppy doesn't exhibit any signs of illness, the tick bite was likely from a tick without disease, and further treatment isn't required.
How do I know if my puppy is sick from a tick bite?
If you suspect that your puppy is sick from a tick bite, your vet can perform a series of diagnostic tests. Usually, these tests will include blood analysis and a urinalysis to determine the presence of disease antibodies and the health of your puppy's kidneys.
- New research shows (long-term) promise for eradicating tick-borne disease. AAHA
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (Tick fever) in Dogs. Merck Veterinary Manual.