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 the skin. The problem is ticks can transmit infectious diseases, such as Lyme disease, which can cause serious symptoms in dogs (this disease can also affect us if we get bitten by an infected tick).

Often once a tick is attached, dogs don’t show any obvious signs they have anything wrong, and this is why they can be so dangerous, as they may remain hidden from you and potentially put your dog at risk of contracting disease. But when you know what to look out for, 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 UK dog tick starts off small, yet once it has attached to a host and fills with blood, its body gets larger and turns a greyish colour, and it is much more visible at around 1 cm in diameter.

Because ticks attach to your dog’s skin and are hidden by your dog’s fur, once they’re attached you’re more likely to feel them on your dog before you 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 hairless areas, so pay particular attention to your dog’s head, neck, groin, feet, armpits and ears.

You may want to use a torch to get a better look inside your dog’s ear and if you spot one inside the ear, contact your vet rather than trying to remove the critter yourself.

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

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 able to feed for days). 

However, some dogs can react to tick bites, tell-tale signs can include red and inflamed skin at the site of attachment, and it can sometimes lead to a skin infection.

Lyme disease can cause dogs to be listless and lethargic

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

If you didn’t manage to catch sight of the tick, then you might not know your dog has been bitten. Ticks can transmit diseases to our pets, and if this happens, you may spot unusual symptoms in your dog some weeks to months after a tick bite, that could indicate they’ve been exposed to a tick-borne disease.

Signs your dog may have Lyme disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection which can cause serious symptoms in dogs. Not all dogs that are infected go on to have problems, but those that do can become very unwell. The bacteria that causes Lyme disease is carried by ticks found in the UK and can be transmitted to both dogs and people if they’re bitten by an infected tick.

Cases of Lyme disease in people in the UK have increased in number in recent years, and both dogs and dog owners walking in areas where ticks are present are at risk of this disease.

If dogs show symptoms with Lyme Disease, they can include:

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

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

Some species of tick can also carry the diseases babesiosis and ehrlichiosis. Although they’re more commonly encountered in mainland Europe, a small number of cases have been reported in dogs that haven’t travelled outside of the UK. If you take your dog abroad, they are also at risk from these diseases, making tick protection important both at home and when holidaying with your pet.

Lethargy can be a symptom of the tick-borne Lyme disease

What to do if you find a tick on your dog

Because ticks can easily be missed, it’s important to proactively 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 go for ‘walkies’ in the countryside 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. Tick removal can be tricky due to their very strong mouthparts, but with the right tools removing them should be relatively straightforward. If you remove the tick and think the mouthparts have broken off and been left behind in the skin, don’t panic, but contact your vet, as there is a risk of an infection at the site of the tick bite.   

Use our guide to removing ticks with a tick hook, to help you successfully remove the whole tick, and help reduce the risk to your dog. We also have advice on removing a tick from your dog’s ear, though if you spot a tick in the ear canal itself, speak to your vet for advice.  

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, collars and spot-ons, 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. 

Seresto flea and tick collar is able to repel and kill ticks, helping to reduce the risk of vector-borne disease. The collar also kills fleas, providing 7 - 8 months of flea and tick protection in a single application. 

Pack shot of Seresto flea and tick control collars for dogs and cats

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