Tick Talk - Dogs and Tick Control
Ticks are small, biting parasites that feed on blood and are typically most active from spring through fall. They are most commonly found in wooded areas. Ticks come in many different varieties that not only look different, but also live in different regions and environments. They can transmit different types of diseases to both people and animals.
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Ticks are actually small arachnids that can range in size from less than 2mm before feeding, to the size of a raisin after feeding. Ticks feed on the blood of animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, deer, cattle, sheep, and humans. Only the female ticks feed on blood because they need it to lay their eggs. Female ticks can lay around 2000 eggs, after which they will die. Ticks cannot fly or jump. Instead, they crawl into the undergrowth and long grasses where they can attach to animals as they walk by.
Ticks are most commonly found in wooded areas and fields of long grass. Tick populations are increasing due to multiple factors - changing weather patterns, increased development in rural areas, and increasing populations of deer. As a result, pet owners are starting to find ticks in previously unaffected areas.
Common Tick Species in the US
While there are hundreds of species of ticks in North America, five are frequently found to affect mammals in the United States. These are the deer tick, American dog tick, lone star tick, brown dog tick, and Western black-legged tick.
Ticks can be divided into two groups, sometimes called hard ticks and soft ticks. Hard ticks, like the common American dog tick, have a hard shield just behind their mouthparts. Soft ticks do not have a hard shield. Soft ticks prefer to feed on birds and bats and are seldom found on dogs and cats. For more information on the identification and distribution of ticks in the US, check out this Tick Identification Guide.
Tick-borne diseases are not caused by the ticks themselves, but by bacteria or parasites that may be found in the tick’s saliva.
How Can You Help Your Dog?
Speak to your vet about tick control products that will rapidly kill or repel ticks. Tick products work, but not 100% of the time. Check your dog daily if you’ve been in a high-risk area. There is also a vaccine available for Lyme disease that your vet may recommend if you live in or frequently travel to areas where the disease is endemic, or where there are high numbers of ticks.
Check your dog for ticks after walks or after being outside. Make sure you check their ears, neck, skin folds, stomach, and other crevices. If you find a tick on your pet, remove it right away and dispose of it in a sealed bag or container so it can’t climb out of the trash and attach again. If you’re not comfortable removing a tick from your dog, make an appointment with your vet for removal as soon as possible.
How to Remove a Tick from Your Dog
Ticks can be difficult to remove. They have tiny spines that hold them tightly in place during feeding. Quickly pulling a tick away from the skin increases the chance of leaving the mouthparts in the skin. The safest way to remove a tick from your dog is to use a specially designed tick removal tool. If you don’t have access to a tick removal tool, a pair of tweezers is a good second option.
- Grasp the tick gently. Squeezing the body too hard will cause the tick to regurgitate the contents of their stomach and salivary glands, increasing the risk of disease transmission.
- Do not use Vaseline or alcohol to remove the tick.
- Never burn the tick.
- Never crush a tick with your fingers.
- Dispose of the tick by putting it in rubbing alcohol, sealing it in a bag, or wrapping it tightly in tape.
A red mark may be present after the tick has been removed. This should go away after 2-3 days and not exceed a few millimeters in size. If part of the tick is left in the skin, localized reactions may occur, including redness, swelling, rash, and/or infection.
Traveling with Your Dog
If your dog travels internationally, be aware that ticks in other countries can carry diseases that aren’t found in the US. These diseases can make your dog very ill and can even lead to death in severely affected or untreated cases. Therefore, preventative treatment for ticks is strongly recommended when traveling internationally. For more information on travel requirements for your pet, check out the USDA APHIS Pet Travel website.
When to See Your Veterinarian
- If the redness associated with a tick bite persists or increases
- If you notice any discharge from the area where the tick was removed
- If you notice any of the clinical signs of Lyme Disease (lethargy, painful/swollen joints, shifting-leg lameness, fever, enlarged lymph nodes)
Please note that any human health concerns regarding tick exposure or tick bites should be addressed by your physician.
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