Ticks are small, bloodsucking ectoparasites that attach themselves to dogs, cats, and humans. Ticks are not insects; they are small arachnids which are related to spiders. Some ticks attach and feed on the head, neck, shoulders, and pubic areas, while other ticks are more prone to feeding on and in the ears, under the tail, and in between the toes. When a tick is full of blood it will look like a little bean attached to your dog’s body.
Ticks burrow under the dog’s skin with their head, so if you choose to remove them the best way is to use a pointed pair of tweezers. Grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and pulling gently is the best approach. Removing a tick with bare hands is usually not as effective and can be potentially dangerous. Ticks can release disease causing pathogens, particularly Rocky Mountain spotted fever, that can be absorbed through breaks in the skin.
There are several species of ticks that live in North America. The most common that we encounter are:
American Dog Tick
The American dog tick will attach itself to dogs and humans. The adults are brown with white spots or streaks on their backs. When they are full of blood they are gray and look like a bean. These ticks are prevalent in the southern United States and are commonly seen near water and other humid areas. This tick can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Lone Star Tick
Lone Star ticks will attach and bite dogs, cats, and humans. The adults are brown or tan and you will notice a white spot on the back. These ticks live in wooded areas and are most commonly found in areas along creeks and river bottoms. This tick carries and transmits the disease Ehrlichiosis.
Brown Dog Tick
This tick is also known as the “kennel” or “house” tick. The Brown Dog tick attaches to dogs and also (rarely) to humans. Unlike the other species of ticks, its life cycle allows it to survive and develop indoors. This tick is found primarily in kennels or homes where dogs live indoors. This tick does not transmit any known diseases.
Deer or Black-legged tick
This tick will attach to dogs, cats, and people. The adults are reddish brown, and look very similar to a Brown Dog Tick. The Deer tick will be a much deeper, darker brown than that of the Brown Dog tick when engorged. This tick can transmit Lyme disease, Babesiosis, and Ehrlichiosis.
Signs & Symptoms of Ticks in Dogs
If your dog has ticks you will generally notice the following:
- Shaking the head - Inside or behind ears are popular places for ticks to live
- Chewing on feet - In between the toes is a popular place for ticks to live
- Biting at the hindquarters
- Hair loss (most commonly seen behind the ears, down the back and back legs, tail, and rump)
- Red, scaly, flaky skin
In some cases if your dog is infested with ticks you will see the ticks hanging on your dog’s body; the immature ticks look like tiny little black spiders, or can be seed ticks -- which look like little black sunflower seeds. The mature ticks will look like little beans.
Ticks not only cause several health problems for our dogs, they are carriers of disease. It is important to understand that although most of the health issues caused by ticks are caused from having an infestation, there are some that only take a few ticks to lead to a health crisis for your dog.
The following are problems most commonly seen with ticks:
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Lyme Disease
- Hot Spots
- Tick Paralysis
- Skin Infections
Causes of Ticks in Dogs
Dogs can get ticks from other pets that have them, and from just being in an environment that is infested with ticks. The backyard, parks, wooded areas, creek beds, gardens, and inside of houses are all examples of areas where ticks live.
Treatment for Ticks in Dogs
PREVENTION is the best treatment for ticks. The most common treatments for ticks include:
- Tick bath - A bath is given using a shampoo that kills the ticks on your dog
- Treatment of house and yard -You can have your house and yard sprayed or treated for ticks
Your veterinarian should offer a wide selection of monthly preventives. They are all similar in that they are either a topical or a pill that is given every month to your dog. Sprays are effective in killing ticks and prevention. These products will prevent ticks from living on your pet and using them as a host. All of the products are effective. Consult with your veterinarian for more specific information.