How to prevent and treat dog ticks

The discovery of a tick on your dog can be seriously worrying. Just the thought of them having a tick can be enough to make most dog owners stressed and with good reason.

Ticks can be deadly to our furry companions and with no vaccines for the deadly diseases they can carry, preventing tick bites is the best course of action.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything there is to know about ticks, what they look like, how to check for them, remove them and prevent them in the first place.

So let’s get to it.

What Is A Tick?

A tick is a type of parasite that feeds on the blood of humans and animals. Small and spiderlike with eight legs, they range in size from as little as 1mm in length to 1cm or larger.

Their small size can make it hard to find them initially, with their presence often only noticed once they are larger and full of blood. Ticks are most often found in humid or moist areas of thick foliage or bush, however, ticks can also be found in grass and leaf piles.

While not particularly mobile or able to move over great distances, they rely on passing humans or animals to hitch a ride and find necessary food. Ticks quickly bite into the skin to access blood and if left undiscovered, a tick may stay attached to its host for up to 10 days before falling off.

Types Of Ticks

In Australia, there are three main types of ticks that can be found on your dog. While ticks can be found year-round, they tend to be more prevalent during the warmer humid months.

Paralysis Ticks

Found along the East Coast of Australia from Victoria all the way to North Queensland, these ticks have dark brown first and fourth legs and beige-coloured second and third legs. While initially brown, once engorged their abdomen can take on a greyish appearance.

As their name suggests, paralysis ticks can cause paralysis in your pet if not discovered and removed early on. Symptoms of paralysis ticks may also include:

  • Loss of coordination or wobbly hind legs (paralysis)
  • Changes to their bark
  • Vomiting, retching and a loss of appetite
  • Unusual coughing
  • Rapid, laboured breathing

Brown Dog Ticks

Found across all areas of Australia, brown dog ticks are uniformly dark brown and have eyes which differentiates them from other species. These ticks cannot cause paralysis in your pet, however, they can cause significant skin irritation or anaemia in your dog in the case of a serious infestation.

Like all types of ticks, Brown dog ticks can also transmit infections. The potentially fatal bacterial infection Ehrlichia Canis is known to be spread by this species.

Bush Ticks

These ticks have smaller mouth parts and short spurs on their head, which may not be visible to the naked eye. They are uniform in colour, being a reddish brown and are most often seen along the East and West coasts of Australia.

Bush ticks can carry potentially fatal diseases such as babesiosis, a parasitic infection of red blood cells. Symptoms of bush ticks are less clear than those of a paralysis tick, but as they can cause significant irritation to the skin, if your dog is scratching or obviously uncomfortable, this is a sign to check for ticks.

Why Are Ticks So Dangerous?

As outlined above, ticks carry a variety of harmful diseases. This means tick bites can be fatal to dogs if not properly managed. In the case of the paralysis tick, they are capable of causing death to a pet via the neurotoxin they inject at the bite location.

Signs of tick paralysis can begin to show up to 72 hours or three days after the initial bite from a tick. While recovery rates from paralysis ticks are high if discovered early, they are still capable of causing several medical complications for your dog or even death.

So how do you tell if your dog has a tick? If they’re not exhibiting any of the common tick symptoms in dogs outlined above but you suspect they're at risk of one, the best thing to do is perform a tick check.

Checking Your Dog For Ticks

Part of the challenge in checking for ticks is that they can be so tiny to begin with and therefore easily missed. Even if your dog isn't exhibiting any dog tick symptoms, it is wise to check them regularly, especially if you have been in bushy areas or long grass.

The best way to check for ticks is to perform a dog tick grooming session. To do this, slowly and gently move your fingertips through their coat at the level of their skin. Pay close attention to any lumps and bumps as you go. Start your search at the head and neck (also taking time to check the mouth, eyes and ears) before continuing down the front legs and checking in between their toes.

Following this, have your dog lie down and thoroughly check their chest, tummy, armpits, tail and back legs. You should also check around their genitals.

If you have been in an area with ticks, or find a small tick on your pet that is easily removed, we recommend repeating this check several times over the following days. Small ticks that are not yet engorged can go unnoticed during even the most thorough check, but they will be more easily spotted once they begin to become engorged.

How To Remove A Tick From Your Dog

Removing a tick can seem daunting, but it is necessary and not something that should wait for a veterinary appointment. The sooner it is removed, the safer it is for your dog.

Using tweezers, gently tug the tick out. The tweezers should be grasping the tick by its head and as close to the skin as possible. You should pull using a steady, straight and upwards motion.

Once removed, check the tick carefully to ensure it is intact. Should the head remain behind, embedded in the skin, try to gently remove it using a sterile needle.

Where possible, keep the tick in a jar or small container filled with isopropyl alcohol. You may need this to show your vet for identification purposes.

Clean the bite wound with antiseptic and thoroughly clean your tweezers.

Following removal, you may like to bathe your dog in a shampoo that is specially made for treating fleas and ticks as this will help to flush out any small ones you might have missed. Some of these products will kill ticks on contact and act as an added barrier of protection following a tick bite.

When To See Your Vet

If a tick is discovered early on and your dog displays no signs of illness, you may not need to see them following removal. Always take note of the date the tick was removed and your dog's behaviour. If the tick is very engorged or you begin to notice any unusual changes in your dog, you should go immediately to the vet.

Any signs of infection at the bite location or a tick that is deeply embedded and unable to be removed properly will also require the support of your vet.

If you are unsure at any time of the appropriate care following a tick bite on your dog, your vet will be more than happy to help.

Best Preventative Measures For Ticks On Dogs

The good news is that while ticks are indeed a nasty parasite you hope never to deal with, there are many effective preventative measures out there to help avoid them. So let’s take a look at how to prevent ticks on dogs and keep our furry family members safe.

There are many options to choose from regarding tick prevention, all of them classed as isoxazolines. Isoxazolines are a synthetic chemical class that offers broad-spectrum insecticidal protection for pets against parasites - namely fleas and ticks.

The best option is oral treatment as this gives optimal protection. Tick collars, sprays and washes are significantly less effective.

Oral tick products that include isoxazoline for dogs include:

  • Nexgard
  • Bravecto
  • Simparica

These oral preventatives are all highly effective at preventing ticks and also work to kill ticks that bite your pet thanks to active ingredients that target the nervous system of these parasites. Many of these preventatives offer extended protection for up to 12 weeks following the initial dose. Dosage is based on weight and must be given consistently for proper protection.

While there is never a guarantee your dog won't get a tick while using preventatives when paired with regular grooming checks they go a long way towards avoiding fatalities or other complications from bites.

We recommend having a chat with your vet regarding which of these preventatives are best for your dog as many will also incorporate other medications for worms and fleas.

Have Additional Questions?

Should you have any additional questions regarding the symptoms of ticks in dogs or how to treat and prevent them, please feel free to contact our team who will be happy to help.

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