By: Laci Schaible, DVM, CVJ for PetMd.com
Fleas get their share of attention and awareness as pesky nuisances that can plague dogs, but ticks are often overlooked.
Did you know that ticks are not even insects? Ticks are actually arachnids, similar to scorpions, spiders and mites—they have four pairs of legs as adults and no antennae. Adult insects, by comparison, have three pairs of legs and one pair of antennae.
Unlike biting insects, ticks don’t bite and fly away; they remain on their hosts, feeding for days before they crawl off. Here’s what you need to know about ticks and their bites.
1. What does a tick bite on a dog look like?
A tick bite on a dog looks like a small red bump, similar to a mosquito bite. These bumps often appear at the site of a tick bite or tick removal and resolve themselves over a few days.
2. Can a tick bite become infected?
Yes, just like any skin wound, tick bites can become infected. Tick bites aren’t typically itchy, so if you find your pup scratching at an old tick bite wound, it is a sign that an infection may have developed. Other signs include worsening, or continued, redness and weeping or oozing around the wound.
Tick bite wounds can be cleaned gently with over-the-counter chlorhexidine solution. An over-the-counter triple antibiotic ointment or spray can be applied after cleaning. If it worsens or doesn't show signs of initial improvement in 1-2 days, seek care from your veterinarian.
If you suspect that your dog’s tick bite is infected, contact your veterinarian immediately.
3. Can ticks bite without attaching?
No, a tick must attach itself to feed. Ticks will also take several days to complete a feeding.
4. Can tick eggs live on a dog?
In theory, yes, tick eggs can live on dogs. In actuality, however, female ticks lay their eggs on the ground. Most dogs get ticks when individual tick adults or nymphs crawl onto the animal.
5. Can ticks jump?
Ticks do not fly or jump in any life stage. That’s right, ticks don’t actually jump. To find a host, many tick species use a strategy called “questing,” where they identify well-used paths and wait on the tips of grasses and shrubs for a host to pass so they can latch on.
They’ll use their third and fourth pairs of legs to hold onto leaves or grass, and will then try to grab onto a passing host using their first pair of legs.
6. What are the different types of ticks?
There are two groups of ticks, sometimes called the “hard” ticks and “soft” ticks. Hard ticks have a hard shield just behind the mouthparts (sometimes unknowingly called the “head”). Hard ticks that have not fed are shaped like a flat seed. Soft ticks do not have the hard shield, and they are shaped like a large raisin.
There are over 15 species of ticks in North America, but your dog is most at risk for four of these:
American dog tick or wood tick (Dermacentor variabilis)
Lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum)
Deer tick or black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis)
Brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)
7. How do you prevent tick bites on dogs?
To prevent tick bites in tick-infested areas, take the following precautions:
When in the woods, walk on cleared trails. Avoid walking through tall grass and low brush in wooded areas. Also avoid walking under low-lying vines and branches.
Thoroughly check pets for ticks after spending time in tick-infested areas. Remember to check all areas, including between the toes and inside the ears. If one tick is found, check for more.
Insect repellants containing DEET are highly toxic to dogs (and cats); make sure to NEVER use them!
Put all pets in your household on a tick preventative. There are many different tick preventatives—some are over-the-counter, while others are prescription. Your veterinarian can help you choose the right one.
8. How do you check for ticks on dogs?
The best way to check your dog for ticks is to brush your fingers through your dog’s fur, applying enough pressure to feel any small bumps. If you feel a bump, pull the fur apart to identify it.
An embedded tick will vary in size, from as tiny as a pinhead to as big as a dime. They are usually black, grey or brown. Depending on the size and location of the tick, its legs may also be visible.
9. How do you remove a tick from a dog?
If you’ve discovered a tick on your dog, it should be removed immediately to avoid a skin reaction and to reduce the likelihood of developing a tick-borne infectious disease. Diseases can be transmitted to your dog in as quickly as a few hours.
Follow these tips to safely remove a tick from a dog:
Grasp the head of the tick with a pair of flat or curved forceps or tweezers. They should be held as close to the skin of your dog as possible. Avoid squeezing the tick!
Using steady, gentle pressure, pull the head of the tick away from the skin without twisting.
The site of the bite should be cleaned with soap and water. You can save the tick in a container with a tight-fitting lid if you would like to have it identified by your veterinarian.
10. Can you drown or squish a tick?
It’s not necessary to drown a tick. If you decide to squish it, make sure to wear gloves or protect yourself. If they’ve already fed, they will be messy and bloody.
11. Should you burn a tick to get it to release?
Definitely not. Burning a tick as a way to get it to “release” from its host is a myth. Burning a tick will irritate it and cause it to release more toxins and diseases that it may be carrying into your pet’s body. It is somewhat similar to causing an adrenaline release in us—the tick will release everything that it has inside of them.