How do you know if your dog has been bitten by a tick?

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Bloodthirsty ticks can be difficult to spot once they’ve buried themselves into your pet’s fur and latched onto their skin.

Ticks can transmit infectious diseases, including Lyme disease, which can cause serious symptoms in dogs (this disease can also affect humans if they are bitten by an infected tick).

One of the greatest dangers of a tick attaching itself is that dogs often don’t show any obvious signs a tick has attached. The tick may remain hidden and silently be spreading disease to your dog without you even knowing it. If you know what to look out for, however, you can reduce the risks. Use our guide to find out whether your dog has become a tick’s latest meal.

How do you know whether your dog has a tick?

Small bumps on the skin

These small, oval-shaped arachnids change colour and size as they feed. The common ticks in Canada start off as small as an apple seed. Once they attach to a host and fill with blood, however, their body gets larger and engorged and turns a greyish colour. At this point they are much more visible and are around 1 cm in diameter.

Ticks attach to your dog’s skin, so they are hidden by your dog’s fur. For this reason, once they attach you are more likely to feel them on your dog before you can actually see them.

Carefully run your hands over your dog’s body to feel for any small bumps on their skin which could be a tick. Ticks like to settle in specific areas, so pay particular attention to your dog’s head, neck, groin, feet (particularly between their toes), armpits and ears.

You may want to use a flashlight to get a better look inside your dog’s ear. If you spot a tick inside their ear you should bring your dog to your veterinarian rather than trying to remove it yourself.

Check your dog for ticks regularly, especially after walking through grassy or wooded areas where ticks live.

Skin irritation

Unlike flea bites, which cause animals to desperately itch and scratch, tick bites often don’t irritate dogs. This is part of the problem. Dogs often won’t alert you to the fact they have been bitten and, meanwhile, the tick is feeding on your dog and potentially spreading disease for days.

Some dogs, however, do have a reaction to tick bites. There are no “tell-tale” signs, but something to look out for is red and inflamed skin which can sometimes lead to a skin infection at the site of attachment. Red skin can be a result of many other irritants or from your dog excessively scratching or chewing the area. Consult your veterinarian if your dog has red or inflamed skin.

More serious symptoms that could indicate your dog might have been bitten by a tick

If you didn’t see the tick, then you might not know your dog has been bitten. Some ticks, unfortunately, can transmit serious diseases to our pets without our knowledge. If this happens you may notice your dog behaving differently weeks and even months after a tick bite. These symptoms could indicate they’ve been exposed to a tick-borne disease.

Signs your dog may have Lyme disease

Lyme disease is a serious bacterial infection which can cause serious symptoms in dogs. Not all dogs that are infected go on to have problems, in fact, most don’t. Those that do, however, can become very unwell. The bacteria that causes Lyme disease is carried by some of the tick species found in Canada and can be transmitted to both dogs and people if they’re bitten by an infected tick.

Cases of Lyme disease have increased in both dogs and people in Canada in recent years. If you walk in areas where ticks are present both you and your dog are at risk of contracting this serious disease.

Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs may include:

  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • fever
  • lameness
  • swollen lymph nodes

Always speak to your veterinarian if your dog shows any of these signs, or any other unusual symptoms. Your dog may not have symptoms for weeks or even months after being bitten by an infected tick. If your dog is unwell and you know he was bitten by a tick, even if it seems like a while ago, always mention this to your vet. Your veterinarian can conduct tests to try to determine if your dog has the disease and prescribe antibiotic treatment if needed.

Dog Diseases Caused by Tick Bites

The two most common species of tick in Canada are the black-legged tick or Deer tick, which can transmit Lyme disease and the American dog tick which can carry Rocky Mountain spotted Fever. The brown dog tick which can carry the diseases babesiosis and ehrlichiosis and, the Lone Star tick, which also can transmit ehrlichiosis are rare as those tick species are not established in Canada and are usually brought into Canada on a migratory bird on a dog who has traveled to another country. If you take your dog abroad, they are still at risk for tick and tick-borne diseases, making tick protection important both at home and when on vacation with your pet.

What to do if you find a tick on your dog

Ticks can easily be missed, so it’s important to be proactive and look for ticks on your dog, especially if you live in or are visiting an area of the country where ticks are common. If you often walk your dog in wooded areas or wide-open parks you should conduct a tick check each time you return.

If you do find a tick, you’ll need to carefully remove the whole tick safely, as soon as you can. Removing the tick quickly reduces the risk it will transmit any diseases. Tick removal can be tricky due to their very strong mouthparts. With the right tools, however, removing ticks should be relatively straightforward. If you remove the tick and are concerned that its mouthparts have broken off and been left behind in your dog’s skin contact your veterinarian, as there is a risk of an infection at the site of the tick bite. Use  our guide to removing ticks  to help you successfully remove the whole tick and reduce the risk of disease or infection.

How you can help prevent ticks biting your dog

The best way to protect your dog from ticks is to use an effective preventative tick treatment.

There are plenty of products on the market in the form of tablets, topical treatments and sprays, all of which target ticks.

Some tick products are active in the bloodstream, and ticks have to bite and feed on your pet before the tick is killed. K9 Advantix®II is able to kill ticks through contact, before they have a chance to bite and feed, which helps reduce the risk of disease transmission.

K9 Advantix® II is not for use in cats

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