Tick Bite Guide For Dog Owners

Tick bite on a dog? Every year it seems someone gets a tick bite on a dog and asks what to do.  Given that Lyme Disease is a nasty disease to get, it is essential to act fast.  But how do you know if your pooch or family member got a bite?

There are some key signs and symptoms to look for, so making sure you are in the know is important.  Let’s dive into the world of tick bites.

Ticks can carry some fairly nasty diseases including Lyme disease and also other illnesses like Ehrlichiosis which is a bacterial infection.  Remember that bugs, spiders, and ticks can carry viruses, diseases, and bacteria (just like Fleas who spread the plague).

What Are Ticks?

Ticks are a kind of spider, technically.  Or rather, one of its cousins. They are in the same Class, Arachnida, according to Wikipedia.  Ticks and mites are both relatives of spiders, being in the same sub-class called Acari. 

These blood-sucking parasites have been around for the better part of 100 million years.  There have been multiple counts of ticks being preserved in amber from millions to tens of millions of years ago.  Ticks can be found all over the world and have even been found in Antarctica, feeding off the penguins. They can survive for short periods in sub-zero temperatures and are hardy and small so can easily find shelter.

Ticks live off of blood. That’s why a tick bite on a dog isn’t that uncommon to find.  They need it to feed themselves and to power the life stages which they must go through.

Where Do Ticks Live?

For ticks to live in an area, there must be two conditions met.  First off, there have to be hosts for ticks to drink blood from. Second, ticks need a certain level of humidity or moisture in the air.  Ticks require moisture so they can go through metamorphosis. Without humidity, ticks can’t change forms. They have to shed their skin when they change from a larval stage to the adult stage. Just like a tarantula, they must shed. If it’s too dry and hot they can’t shed.

Ticks prefer to live on the edge of forests.  They like the thicket at the edge of an open area yet under the shade of trees.  This is the ideal habitat for the tick. The shade provides the necessary moisture, keeping the area cool from the day’s hot sun.

How Do Ticks Bite?

Ticks live in grass, shrubs, trees, and underbrush, usually at a forests’ edge.  A tick will latch onto a passing host (person, dog, et cetera) as they brush up against the bush or leaf litter where the tick is waiting for prey.

The tick will then migrate, climbing along the body of the host until they reach the desired bite location.  Ticks prefer warm, moist areas so they will often crawl to the armpit, groin or hair before latching on and biting.

Symptoms Of A Tick Bite On A Dog Or Person

When bitten by a tick, you may not even know you were bitten.  Except that a tick often stays attached for up to about 10 days.  Ticks will stay attached in order to gorge upon your blood until they are completed fully.  So a lot of the time, you’ll know you were bitten by a tick because they will be attached to your skin.  Here are some common possible symptoms, if you are bitten by a tick:

If Allergic:

  • Rash
  • Pain/Swelling at the bite site
  • Burning sensation at the bite location
  • Blisters
  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing (extreme allergic reaction) – Seek immediate medical attention if you have issues breathing

Symptoms Associated With Tick-Borne Diseases:

The following symptoms can occur when bitten by a tick.  These symptoms may present themselves due to potentially transmitted disease from the tick.  If you are bitten by a tick, remember to save the tick in a Ziploc bag and seek medical attention to see if any disease has been transmitted.  Many of the diseases ticks spread can be halted if caught in time so don’t wait to see a doctor. According to Healthline.com, here are some possible symptoms of tick-borne diseases:

  • A red spot at the bite site
  • Rash
  • Neck stiffness
  • Headache
  • Muscle and/or joint pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Weakness and/or fatigue

There may also be a bull’s eye ring around a red spot. If this is expanding, it is a sign of spreading infection.

If you are bitten by a tick, to be safe it is advised to seek medical attention.

Black Legged Tick – Adult females at various feeding stages.
Photo: Government of Canada

What To Do If A Tick Is On Your Dog

Finding a tick on your dog is a stressful situation, or rather it can be.  But with a little knowledge, it can be managed. First off, you need to get the tick off the dog.  I had a tick on my dog once and the darn thing wasn’t letting go. My dog was freaking out whenever I used tweezers to try to remove the tick (as close to the skin as possible to try to prevent the tick from coming apart). 

So I brought my dog to my vet.  They removed the tick and took precautions to prevent further possible illness.  But what do you do if your vet isn’t around?  

If you don’t have an emergency vet service handy, you can remove the tick yourself.  The problem is they have a tendency to latch on really good and a squirming dog can make it really difficult to remove the parasite.  This is especially true if the tick has found its way to the desired location of the attack, the ears, and the head.

What To Do If You Get A Tick Bite (On A Person)

If a tick bites you, there are a few things that will indicate the bite was caused by a tick.  First off, the tick will likely be attached to you. When you find a tick attached to yourself, I like to follow the rule from Douglas Adams, A Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy:  Don’t Panic. Sometimes people get a tick and freak out, trying to rip the tick off their skin immediately. This is not a great idea and I’ll tell you why.

If you are not careful removing a tick, you can wind up squeezing it and it will ‘backwash’ into your body.  That’s not only really gross to think about, it’s also not great if that tick is carrying a virus or bacteria like those responsible for Lyme disease for example.

The best practice is to carefully use a pair of tweezers.  Carefully grasping the tick as close to your skin as possible and pulling slowly straight up and away from your skin.  Don’t twist or go on an angle, just pull straight up and away. Doing so slowly should cause the tick to let go, rather than have their head ripped off or apart.  Once they have let go, do not let them go or squeeze them. Instead, tape them to a piece of white paper and place this in a Ziploc bag. You’ll want to bring it with you to the doctor in case they want to test it.

How To Treat Tick Bites

  1. The first thing to do if bitten by a tick is to carefully remove the tick with tweezers as described previously.
  2. Wash the bite THOROUGHLY with soap and warm water. 
  3. Disinfect with alcohol and/or iodine
  4. Second, save the tick, tape it to a piece of paper and secure it in a Ziploc bag or other sealed container.  Do this so if a doctor needs to test it for possible disease, they will be able to do so.  
  5. Seek a doctor.  Try to do this within a day or two at most.  In case the tick was carrying Lyme disease, you will want to get treated immediately to prevent this nasty disease from getting you.  Don’t follow any old wives’ tales, just go get it checked out. Taking a few hours out of your day could literally save your life. Seriously, don’t be silly – go to a doctor!

How To Avoid Ticks

The most obvious answer is to stay indoors and avoid known tick areas, but life just isn’t that simple, now is it?  In other words, simply trying to avoid any areas where a tick might be could prove to be extremely difficult.

Ticks like to live in moist, warm areas usually at the edge of a forest.  But make no mistake, ticks are global and have even been found in Antarctica so good luck trying to actually avoid them.

Bug Spray

One way to prevent ticks is to use a bug spray that includes DEET.  This stuff isn’t great for you as studies have shown.

“In 1998 the Environmental Protection Agency conducted a definitive assessment of the chemical. The agency turned up 46 seizures and four deaths that were potentially linked to deet exposure.”

Consumer Reports

From what I’ve read, it looks like most of the time the issues caused by DEET are typically caused by product misuse.  Overall DEET is considered safe if used properly. That being said, the alternative of contracting a disease like Lyme disease makes the risk of using DEET containing products seem negligible.

Clean Up The Leaves

Another great way to avoid ticks is to keep leaf litter cleaned up and bushes trimmed and clean.  Keeping your yard clean won’t stop ticks, but it can help eliminate their preferred habitat. This, in turn, would reduce the number of ticks in the area.

Spraying with arachnid focused pesticides works, but it is not something I personally recommend.  There are too many other good arachnids which would be affected in the area. This would throw off the natural order in the localized ecosystem.  For this reason, I cannot recommend chemicals that are harmful to our environment.

Cover Up

The best way to avoid ticks is to cover up.  So that means no open footwear. Keep socks on and tuck your pants into your socks.  Wear light-colored clothing so you can see the nasty little bloodsuckers. Ticks can neither fly nor can they jump.

Ticks climb up grass and bushes to latch on to passers-by. They also wait in the grass for an unsuspecting foot to pass. Therefore grabbing on and starting their climb to their favorite biting spots.  This is why you should avoid tall grasses and bushes. Avoid rubbing up against plants. Wear light clothing so you can see if a tick is climbing your leg, making its way to groin, armpit or head.

Avoiding A Tick Bite On A Dog

The number one way to help out your dog is to keep them on a leash.  Keep the dog out of bushes and tall grasses. Don’t take the dog into wooded areas and keep them on short-trimmed grasses at the most.  Doing this in an area you know is a high-risk tick area will definitely lower your chances of having your dog get a tick on it.

Check your dog regularly to make sure they don’t have a tick on them.  Make sure you check their armpit areas, their groin and the ears are particularly susceptible.

Treating your dog or dogs as a preventative measure is a smart idea. Using something like K9 Advantix for large dogs or Frontline Plus for small dogs is a smart way to prevent ticks from having any success. Check with your vet first of course.

My Experience With A Tick Bite On A Dog

My Yorkie got a tick on her ear.  It wasn’t a nice tick bite on a dog. Not that it would ever be nice. It was latched on at the base of the edge of her ear, on her head.  The dog was left with a friend while on vacation and they live in an area that is known for ticks.  Unfortunately, they never noticed the tick until I picked up the dog by which time the tick was massive. 

It was really hooked in there bad and my dog was freaking out when we tried to extract the tick. We brought the dog to the veterinarian who removed the tick and said it would be tested for the disease.  No further treatment was required.

Helpful Resources

Tick Bites! 8 Scary Facts Every Dachshund Owner Should Know – From our friends at Dachshund Station

Bibliography

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© 2019 – 2020, Jeremy Shantz. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “Tick Bite Guide For Dog Owners”

  1. Meaghan Paulionis

    This is an interesting and useful read. I have always been worried about ticks with my dogs (and other pets for that matter). Thanks to this article by Farmer Jer, I have all the information I need!

    1. Thanks Meaghan, I appreciate that. I spent a lot of time researching for this article, to provide the most accurate information available. I’m happy that you found it useful.

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