Ticks can be a problem for dogs and humans alike, especially at certain times of the year and in parts of the country. Here’s what you need to know to keep your pup—and you—as safe as possible from the pesky bugs and avoid tick-borne illnesses.

By Lacey Howard and Lacey Howard
August 24, 2020
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Ticks, those small, oval or round, eight-legged blood-feeders, are bothersome to both humans and animals alike. At best, a bite can be irritating, at worst it can endanger you or your pet’s health, causing tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease. In fact, just reading this is probably giving you the sensation that something is crawling on you. But knowing how to find, remove, and prevent ticks on your dog is an important part of taking good care of your pet.

How Do Dogs Get Ticks? 

Ticks are opportunistic parasites. They hang out on the tips of blades of grass or on the outer leaves of bushes and shrubs and wait for an animal to pass by. When your dog brushes up against the foliage where the tick is waiting, the tick makes his move, crawling onto your pet and eventually implanting his mouth parts into your dog’s skin. 

There are different types of ticks that are prevalent in various regions of the United States and Canada. And while ticks themselves are gross, they are not, by themselves, dangerous. However, ticks are carriers of serious diseases like Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Consult your veterinarian to understand which ticks and what diseases are common in your area. 

The good news: If your dog is infected, he cannot pass the disease along to you. You can, however, be infected by a tick bite. So if your dog is infected, and you’ve been in the same place as him, you may have been bitten as well. 

How Can You Tell if Your Dog Has Ticks?

If you find an unattached tick crawling on your floor or furniture or even (eek!) on yourself, “pick it up using a tissue and kill it or flush it,” says Anne Conover, DVM, the owner of Rolling Hills Veterinary Clinic, a mixed animal practice in Madison County, Iowa. Then, check your dog for attached pests by petting him and feeling for small bumps. If you feel something, part the fur so you can see the skin. 

Your dog’s behavior may give you clues to where there may be attached ticks. The pests are especially attracted to the warm, moist environment of your dog’s ears, so excessive head-shaking might be a clue. “He may lick, scratch, or bite at the area where the tick is crawling or attached,” Conover says. Another clue may be unexplained scabs. If your dog has removed a tick with his scratching and licking, a scab may form where the skin is irritated from the tick’s bite.

How Are Ticks Treated? 

The first priority in treating a tick bite is to remove the attached tick. This is not as scary as you might think. Here’s more good news: Ticks crawl. They do not jump or fly. So you don’t have to worry about the tick escaping or getting lost once you remove it—just be sure you have your supplies ready before you begin the removal process.

The best way to remove a tick is with tweezers or a specific tick-removal tool. Wear disposable gloves or protect your hands with a tissue or paper towel. Part your dog’s fur and, using the tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Do not twist; simply pull straight up with a constant steady pressure. Be patient, the tick may not release immediately.

Once removed, drop the tick in a jar with a bit of rubbing alcohol to kill it, then keep the tick in a container or a plastic bag labeled with the date, place, and other details. If your dog later starts to exhibit unusual symptoms, your vet can help identify the type of tick and the label information will be helpful. 

After removal, disinfect the bite area on the dog’s skin and wash your hands thoroughly. “If the area where the tick is or was attached is inflamed or swollen, or if a tick is burrowed deeply into the skin, a veterinarian should examine the dog,” Conover says. “If there are abundant ticks on your dog, you should consult your veterinary care team for tick prevention methods that work best in your area.”  

Prevention is Possible! Here’s How 

“The best way to keep ticks away is to use a monthly preventative,” Conover says. “The most effective brands typically are those sold by a veterinarian.” Whether you choose an oral medication that your dog enjoys as a tasty treat or a topical treatment, a liquid that you apply to the skin between his shoulder blades, you still should do due diligence in keeping your pup tick-free. “It is still recommended to check your dog for ticks after an outing, and to remove any ticks you find as soon as possible,” Conover says.