Tick Prevention for Dogs: What Pet Parents Need to Know
As spring flings in with sunshine and flowers, it also brings an unwanted guest: the dreaded tick. (Ick.)
Most of us know the struggle of having to check ourselves and our pets for ticks after a bout of warm weather or a weekend camping trip. If you’ve never had to do a tick check or been bitten by one of these pesky buggers, consider yourself lucky.
To help you and your dog make the most out of spring and summer, we’ve pulled together what every pet parent should know about tick prevention for dogs.
What is a tick?
Other than annoying, ticks are small, blood-sucking arachnids. Yes, you heard that right—these 8-legged bugs are relatives to spiders.
There are hundreds of types of ticks, many of which carry harmful bacteria and viruses that can make humans and animals really sick by transmitting diseases like Lyme disease (a bacterial infection of bodily organs). They prefer warm, wooded areas and tall grass where they wait for you and your dog to brush on by so they can hitch a ride. Some ticks are as small as the head of a pin, making them tough to find and even tougher to avoid.
Tick prevention for dogs: What do I do?
Before we move into identifying and removing ticks, let’s talk about preventing them from attaching in the first place.
Your first line of defense is your vet. They’ll know what tick prevention regime is best for your dog based on factors like geography, lifestyle (how often they travel or visit off-leash parks, for example), body size, and fur type. There are a variety of chewables and topicals available; in some cases, it’s appropriate to use a combination of both.
Although you don’t have control over the condition of outdoor environments outside your home, how you maintain your yard is another way to keep ticks at bay. We’ll tackle that in a minute. But first: how to spot a tick, and how to safely get rid of it.
What do ticks look like on dogs?
Much like fleas, ticks love to feed on dogs’ blood.
Ticks make quick work of attaching to dogs, but it’s not until they’ve been feeding for at least a day and a half (36 hours) that they really start to swell up. The longer they feed, the more likely they are to transmit disease (if they are carriers) so it’s important to remove them as soon as possible.
Because a tick bite is generally painless, you likely won’t know that your dog has been bitten unless you check.
When tick season rolls around, make a habit of running your hands over your dog’s body every time you return from a walk or a play outside. Chances are your dog will appreciate the extra pets anyway!
Ticks are especially fond of hiding out on dogs’ heads, necks, feet, and ears (inside and out). Make sure you double- or even triple-check these areas.
How to remove a tick from a dog
So you’ve found a tick. Now what?
Removing ticks from dogs isn’t glamorous work, but it’s critical to protect their health and wellbeing. While there are other methods out there, we recommend keeping things simple and using a staple household item: the trusted tweezer.
Here’s what to do:
STEP 1: Using your tweezers, squeeze the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. If your dog has a hard time sitting still, try distracting them with a treat or a chew while you do the extraction.
STEP 2: Pull upwards with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick! Doing this can cause the head and mouth-parts to detach and be left behind in the skin. This increases the chance of a reaction.
STEP 3: Once the tick has been successfully removed, give the bite area a thorough clean and wash your hands. Some dogs will want to scratch the site; if needed, use an e-collar or a t-shirt to prevent them from doing so.
Some redness and irritation after a tick extraction is normal. Any inflammation should disappear within a week. If not, or if they seem uncomfortable, give your vet a call. Taking daily photos of the area can help you track progression.
STEP 4: To kill the tick, submerge it in alcohol. Once the deed is done, pop it in a sealed bag or container, or flush it down the toilet. Or, better yet, if you’re not totally grossed out by ticks, keep them and give them to your family vet. (What a gift!) Because only certain ticks transmit diseases of concern, your veterinarian will be able to identify that tick—either on their own or through additional testing—to determine any risks to your dog and other loved ones.
Tick control for dogs
Even if your dog is taking a topical or oral tick prevention product, it’s important to also keep your yard a tick-free zone. To do that, you should:
- Remove leaf litter
- Clear tall grasses and brush
- Place a 3-foot-wide barrier of wood chips/gravel between your lawn and wooded areas (this restricts tick migration)
- Regularly mow your lawn
- Keep wood in a dry area away from the house (rodents carry ticks, and besides… we’re guessing you don’t want rodents, either)
- Keep things like playgrounds and patio furniture away from trees and yard edges
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