It’s a scary thought, but ticks are likely lying in wait wherever your dog might roam. For this reason, your best protection against ticks is total prevention right from the start.
To give dog owners a better chance at getting rid of ticks once they've arrived or, better yet, keeping them away in the first place, we've compiled this list of tick FAQs. From the best way to kill ticks to the best natural tick repellent to ways to remove ticks from dogs, we'll cover all the basics of ticks 101.
When Is Tick Season?
Tick season can vary depending on where you live. In general, summer and fall are peak periods when ticks are most prevalent. However, because ticks like warmer climates, those who live in regions that stay warm year-round are at higher risk of more insidious tick issues. But this doesn't mean you should cease tick prevention measures when the temperature drops. Most veterinarians will recommend that you continue tick prevention efforts year-round in accordance with the instructions on your tick prevention of choice.
As a general rule, if your area’s average temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, your tick risk is low. If your average temperature is between 40 and 64 degrees, you are at a moderate tick risk. Regions where average temperatures are typically 65 degrees and above are at the highest risk for ticks.
Where Do Ticks Live?
Ticks take up residence in dark, damp areas low to the ground until they latch on to the perfect host. Ticks can be found anywhere from the dog park to your backyard; however, heavily wooded areas and places where tall grasses grow are where your dog is most at risk. After going on a hike or romping through a field, dogs should be checked thoroughly for ticks from nose to tail.
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Where Do Ticks Like to Hide?
Searching for ticks is not as simple as running a hand down your dog’s back and legs. Ticks latch firmly onto the skin beneath and between the hair, so you have to search deep within a dog's fur to find them. Often, ticks are so tiny, you may not even feel them at first. They can also be mistaken for a skin tag, wart, or scab. This is why it is so important to brush, bathe, and regularly groom to familiarize yourself with your dog and know what is “normal” for them and what is not.
Long-haired dogs, dogs with dark coats, and dogs with an undercoat pose the greatest challenge, as ticks are hardest to feel and see. Just like in the wild, ticks prefer warm, dark areas on your dog. These are some common places where ticks like to hide:
Under front legs:
You will commonly find ticks in your dog’s “armpits,” where it is dark and warm. Also, the skin is very thin in that area, which makes it easy for them to penetrate.
Inside groin region:
Also hidden from view and thin-skinned, ticks commonly latch on to the inside of your dog’s back legs in the flank region.
Since they’re so low to the ground, ticks often hide between your dog’s toes. They can be difficult to detect in this location, so be sure to closely examine between the toes and webbing. This is why it’s important that your dog be comfortable with you touching their paws. This handling should begin when your dog is a puppy!
In and around ears:
The delicate folds and thin skin of your dog’s ears are another easy place for ticks to hide. Ticks here can be difficult to find and even harder to remove.
Around eyes and eyelids:
Surprisingly, ticks will even latch onto the thin skin around your dog’s eyes and eyelids. This is because your dog’s snout is often sniffing at ground level. Though easier to find, ticks around the eyes can be precarious to remove.
Under collar or harness:
Because ticks like warm, dark places, ticks will often hide under your dog’s collar or harness. Don’t forget to check there!
Can Ticks Make My Dog Sick?
Just like humans and all other mammals, dogs are susceptible to tick-borne diseases. Below are some of the most common tick-borne diseases seen in dogs:
One of the most well-known tick-borne diseases, Lyme Disease is typically transmitted by deer ticks and is most common in the Northeastern and Southeastern United States. Symptoms include a rash around the tick bite, fever, mild lameness, loss of appetite, and lethargy. Lyme Disease is a serious cause for concern, so if you have any reason to believe your dog may have it, see your vet immediately.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever:
A somewhat common tick-borne disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is transmitted by American dog ticks, Rocky Mountain wood ticks, and brown dog ticks. It is prevalent throughout all regions of the United States. Symptoms include lethargy, stomach pain, and vomiting. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be fatal if not treated promptly, so if you have any concerns, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Another common tick-borne disease, Ehrlichiosis is primarily transmitted by brown dog ticks. Brown dog ticks can be found throughout the United States, but are most prevalent in warmer climates, such as the South and Southwestern US. Symptoms of Ehrlichiosis include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, lymph node enlargement, and occasional abnormal bruising.
Ticks’ bites can also cause a local reaction - such as bumps, scabs, reddening, or itchiness - in the area of the tick bite. This is usually not a major cause for concern, unless the area is large or deep. If symptoms persist beyond 24 hours after tick removal, worsen, or are accompanied by other symptoms, contact your veterinarian.
How Do I Prevent Ticks?
Staying diligent with your tick prevention regimen is key! A variety of prevention methods are available, including oral medications, topical treatments, natural tick killers for the yard and home, and collars. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on what method will be most effective for you and your dog. Region, lifestyle, and the individual dog's breed all play a role.
Sometimes, a method that works for one dog, won’t work for another, so you may have to use trial and error to determine the best method for your pup. With that said, there are many excellent natural repellents available on the market today, just be sure to check with your vet about the list of ingredients. And finally, cleanliness sets the standard when it comes to avoiding ticks, bugs, and parasites --- good old-fashioned soap and water should be your front-line defenses against the dirt, mud, and moisture where ticks live and breed.
What Should I Do if I Find a Tick on My Dog?
Don’t panic! Most of the time, tick bites won’t cause your dog any harm. If your dog is on tick prevention medication, a tick may still bite your dog, but will die before they can cause any negative effects. The tick will either fall off on its own or you may find a dead tick during the grooming process.
Ticks can transmit disease in as little as 36 hours, so removing them immediately is important. Removing ticks is a straight-forward process and most pet owners are comfortable following these steps:
- Wear latex or vinyl exam gloves when removing ticks to avoid contact with blood if the tick is engorged.
- Grasp the tick as closely to the skin as possible using fine, sharp tweezers. In one, fluid motion, carefully pull the tick straight up from the skin.
- Check the area to ensure that the full tick has been removed completely. If a tick is firmly latched on, the head may remain in the skin.
- Dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet, dousing it in rubbing alcohol, or trapping it in a piece of tape before placing it in the trash. Ticks are very hardy and can reattach if not disposed of properly! They cannot be disposed of with regular “conventional bug” methods (i.e., in a tissue in your trash can).
- Give your dog a treat!
- Continue to check the site for several days. As previously stated, some reddening and itching can occur. If reddening worsens, you observe any inflammation or oozing, or it appears that your dog is in pain, contact your veterinarian.
With tick removal, the goal is to detach from the skin very carefully. You should never jerk the tick away from the skin or pull it in a rapid fashion. If you are uncomfortable for any reason, contact your veterinarian. They will be more than happy to remove it for you or walk you through the process.
A Final Word on How to Get Rid of Ticks
Now that you know how to get rid of ticks on a dog and what to do when you spot ticks in your yard or home, your confidence should be high enough to handle everyday tick problems. To hedge your bets against ticks altogether, stay diligent with your tick prevention and follow your veterinarian’s recommendations.
Pet insurance can also provide reimbursement for preventive care expenses like tick and flea prevention. Wellness add-ons from AKC Pet Insurance (underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company) can help you ensure that your dog is healthy and happy during tick season and year-round.