If you and your dog live an active lifestyle where you spend a lot of time outdoors in nature, then you know what it's like to find one of these creepy crawlies on your dog. Even if you don't spend a lot of time hiking in the woods your dog can pick up ticks from sniffing around tall grass near your house, in the dunes at the beach, or in that pile of leaves in the back yard you've been meaning to get rid of.
To be fair ticks have their place in our world. Yes, I said it. They serve as a source of nutrition for many other animals which we have greater fondness for like, chickens, opossums, and turkeys. Because they carry diseases they also help to keep wild animal populations in check.
With the positives out of the way, we can now look at why, when you see one of these tiny insects crawling around an internal alarm should sound. The biggest reason ticks suck, is the fact that they carry and transmit diseases to dogs and humans. In short, they want to suck your blood and then give you a nasty life altering and potentially fatal disease such as Lyme, Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Babesiosis among many others. Diseases can be transfer from tick to host anywhere between 10-48 hours after the bite has occurred and the tick has attached to its host. Because many ticks are initially very small, they can go undetected for days, putting your dog and you in the danger zone for contracting a disease.
It’s important to remember if you find a tick crawling on your dog that’s flat and not engorged, they most likely haven’t bitten your dog. They may just be hitching a ride on the back of your furry friend and decide to hop off on your bed, couch, clothes, etc where they have access to you, your children, and other animals in your home. This is why it's imperative to be vigilant and consistent in checking your dog for ticks.
What Kind of Ticks Are Found Near Me?
On the Seacoast we have a few common species of ticks. The first one we’ll talk about, and one of the most well known is the Deer Tick.
Illustration by Kirsten Beard
Deer Ticks are small, 0.078 to 0.137" in size, they are only a tiny fraction of a paperclip. Their bodies are brown and their legs are jet black. This is why they are also informally known as the Black Legged Tick. Females will have a black oval stemming from their head that takes up about half their body and the males, which are much smaller, will have a large black oval encompassing the vast majority of their body. Deer Ticks get a lot of attention in the media as they are the most well known carrier of Lyme disease. Lyme disease affects both dogs and humans. Once the tick has bitten and attached it only takes between 36-48 hours for bacterium causing Lyme disease to infect the host. Lyme is a serious disease that presents like the flu, but can be fatal if left untreated. When bitten by a tick you'll most likely find a small red bump due to the bite and irritation of the skin. This is normal. However if bitten by a Lyme disease infected tick one of the most tell tale signs is the presence of a Bull's Eye pattern left on the skin.
The Dog Tick
Unlike the name suggests, Dog Ticks are not cute floppy eared little bugs who are happy go lucky and looking for a belly rubs & cuddles. They’re still parasites looking for a free meal that can leave you feeling lousy and on medication. One not so terrible thing about Dog Ticks is their size. They're larger than Deer Ticks, which makes them easier to find. These ticks are brown with notable geometrical features on both the males and females. Imagine looking into a kaleidoscope as a kid and seeing all those symmetrical geometric figures. That’s what it’s like looking at the back of a male dog tick. These ticks are known for carrying Tularemia, a rare but serious bacterial disease also known as Rabbit Fever. This disease can be life threatening for humans if not treated appropriately with antibiotics. In dogs, Tularemia is usually less severe. Symptoms include lethargy, poor appetite, inflammation of the eyes, enlarged lymph nodes, mild fever, and draining abscess.
These ticks are also known to carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Something to be especially careful of in both humans and dogs. This disease is contracted from an infected tick bite. Symptoms include: lethargy, blood in urine, irregular heart beat, inflammation of eyes (conjunctivitis, swollen, bleeding), edema in extremities, and loss of coordination. If these symptoms are observed after pulling a Dog Tick from your animal or yourself please seek medical attention immediately.
The Lone Star Tick
The Lone star females are credited for giving the species its name. This is due to the one lone white spot located on their back. These ticks are known to be aggressive human bitters. That doesn’t mean they will ignore Fido though. They will still gladly chomp on your dog if given the opportunity. These ticks are known for carrying Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Human Monocytic Ehrlichiosis (bacterial illness), and STARI (Southern tick associated rash illness, bacterial illness). The symptoms of these diseases are similar to others in that you should pay attention to any unusual feelings of lethargy, muscle aches/pains, loss of appetite, rash, etc.
All of these ticks are found on the Seacoast. They’ll hang out on tall blades of grass, in thick brush, in piles of leaves, it’s not uncommon to even pick up a tick or two at the beach from the grass on the dunes. Ticks are opportunistic. They’ll jump on their host, attach, feed, fall off, and then find a way to do it all a again.
Key Places to Check Your Dog For Ticks
Ticks feed on the blood of the host. When checking your dog pay close attention to areas where there is a good blood supply. These areas include:
- The Ears (outside & inside)
- Around the neck
- All over the head
You'll also want to inspect areas that smart ticks can burry themselves into knowing they’re unlikely to be spotted by happenstance. Examples of these places are:
- In between the toes
- The gum line
- Groin area
If you come across a tick that has bitten your dog, it's time to do what Abbie and I refer to as "surgery." There’s many different methods and techniques to removing ticks. We suggest you do some research and find a method that works for you and your dog the best. For those who are newer to living the anti-tick life I’ll explain how Abbie and I remove ticks from our dog, Charlie. Firstly, gather your supplies and have them ready and near you.
- Removal tool
- Alcohol or Hydrogen Peroxide
- Tissues/cotton balls
We use tweezers, and keep a few pairs in the house and in both of our vehicles just in case. You can also use tools like a tick key or tick twister. Typically one of us is holding, comforting, and giving Charlie treats while the other is focusing on the removal. Having two sets of eyes and hands when removing a tick is great but it’s not necessary. I’ve flown solar and removed many ticks by myself as well.
We start by dipping the tweezers in alcohol, making sure they are clean should we accidentally break the skin. Then we gain as much visibility as possible moving all the fur out of the way. I'll take hold of the tick as close to the head as possible and pull straight out. This usually takes a little bit of elbow grease and you want to be as steady as possible as to not break pieces of the tick off. Any remnants left in the skin can cause infection. If the head is left in the skin and intact it can continue to transmit disease despite being detached from the body. Lastly, we put alcohol/hydrogen peroxide on a cotton ball and dab the area. If the skin was broken after cleaning we put a small amount of Neosporin on it.
The best thing you can do for your dog is be proactive and avoid tick bites all together. Consult with your veterinarian to find the best tick preventative for your dog. Some of the preventatives we personally use Nexgard, which is an oral chewable that works from the inside out. We've found that the ticks that attach to Charlie when he’s taking Nexgard die before they can feed and become engorged. They may remain in the spot where they attached, but are dead, brittle, and easily taken off once spotted.
We also really like products that utilize No Fly Zone technology. These are dog vests and harnesses that contain a non-toxic insect repellant inside the fabric. If you have any questions or are looking for advice feel free to reach out to the Salty Paws team.
A special thanks to Salty Paws Pack Captain Kirsten Beard who spent over six hours creating the tick illustrations featured in this blog. Check out Kirsten’s other work on her Instagram page at @kshepart.