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Ticks on dogs: how to spot them and get rid of them

When most people think of ticks, they probably picture summer. But spring marks the beginning of an uptick in tick activity.

There are more than 22 species of the creature in the UK alone, and they become active from the start of spring through to mid-autumn.

 What are TICKS?

Ticks are parasites that feed on warm-blooded mammals, including dogs, cats and, potentially, us. These parasites latch onto the skin and suck blood, dropping off once they’ve finished feeding, although this can take days.

Photo of the tick. On the left: hungry tick. On the right: tick full of blood

Where are ticks found?

Ticks are common in woodland, grassland and heath areas, but can also be found in your garden if you live in an area with lots of wildlife. You are most likely to come across them in areas with lots of deer or sheep between spring and autumn. But they are active throughout the year.

How can I tell if my dog has ticks?

After taking your dog for a walk, it’s a good idea to check them for ticks. You can do this by moving your hands over their body to check for any unusual small bumps, particularly around their:

  • Ears
  • Head
  • Neck
  • Groin
  • Armpits
  • Feet

Ticks vary in size, but you should be able to see their oval-shaped body, which will get bigger as it fills with blood. Ticks may go inside a dog’s ear, so if your dog is shaking their head a lot, it’s worth having a careful look inside with a torch

What diseases can they cause?

Tick bites themselves can be irritating but they can also transmit infectious disease, including the headline-grabbing Lyme disease (or borreliosis), babesiosis, canine ehrlichiosis, and tick-borne encephalitis.

  • Lyme disease

Carried by the sheep tick (scientifically known as Ixodes ricinus), the most common tick in the UK, Lyme disease is caused by the spirochete bacteria, called Borrelia.

Acute symptoms in dogs include fever, intermittent lameness, swollen or painful joints, tiredness, and swollen lymph nodes. But signs of illness may only appear two to six months after a tick bite.

Symptoms in humans include a distinctive ‘bullseye’ rash up to six inches wide around the bite, along with tiredness, fever, muscle and joint pain, neck pain and headaches. Left untreated, the disease can lead to serious problems including paralysis and meningitis. 

 How can I prevent my dog from getting ticks?

There are many safe products on the market to prevent ticks: from spot-ons and sprays, to special collars impregnated with substances that infiltrate into the fatty layer in your dog's skin, killing ticks when they attempt to feed and get their first mouthful of anti-parasitically treated blood.

 How to remove a tick from a dog

Twisting them off your dog is the best removal method, and pet shops sell handy tick-removal devices to make this easier.

You need to be careful not to squeeze the tick’s body or allow its head to get stuck inside your dog. Squeezing a tick’s body can cause it to expel blood back into your dog, increasing the risk of infection.  Ask your vet for advice if you're worried about doing this.

  • Once you've located the tick, gently part your dog's fur so that you can easily reach the tick
  • Get your tick remover and slowly push it under the tick
  • When you have a firm grasp of the tick, twist it in a clockwise direction several times until the tick comes loose
  • Take a look at your dog's skin and make sure the tick is completely removed
  • Pop the tick in a tissue and place it in the bin before washing your hands

Tick-borne diseases can be difficult to spot as the symptoms can be vague. If your dog is showing signs of illness and they have been bitten by a tick, it’s a good idea to speak to your vet.

Check yourself, check your kids, check your pets!

Owners are more likely to be bitten by ticks if they walk their dogs in areas with a high tick population. Hikers and people who exercise in woodland and the countryside are at risk too.

Three ways to help avoid tick bites

  • Wear long sleeved tops when out walking and either tuck trousers into socks, or wear long socks
  • Check your clothes for ticks and brush them off quickly if you spot any
  • Use an insect repellent

Important: Never try to burn off the tick or smother it with lotions, oils or moisturisers. This may cause the tick to expel some of the blood back into you, putting you at higher risk of infection!