Signs to Look for If Your Dog Is Bitten by a Tick
Because you love your dog, you do everything you can to keep him safe and healthy—you make sure the food you feed him is nutritious, take him to the vet for regular checkups and shots, and regularly monitor him for signs of injury or illness.
But even when you're vigilant, taking all appropriate measures to ensure your dog’s health and safety, he can still face problems which are outside of your control—and some of those may be right in your own backyard.
How Do Ticks Get on Your Dog?
Ticks, like mites and spiders, are arachnids. They are parasites which feed on the blood of host animals, including dogs. There are many species of tick. Among the more common are the dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) and the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis). Ticks can found in all regions of the world, and all parts of the United States, but they tend to be more prominent in wooded areas of the Northeast.
Ticks live in grass and tall brush and are most active in the spring, summer and fall. When your dog plays in the yard, ticks look for opportunities to attach themselves, usually close to your dog’s head, neck, feet, and ears. When a tick infestation is severe, however, ticks can appear anywhere on your dog’s body.
"Pay close attention to your #dog's head, neck, feet, and ears when checking for ticks." TWEET THIS
What’s the Best Way to Check My Dog for Ticks?
Ticks come in different sizes. Some, like the deer tick (which can transmit Lyme disease) are tiny, but all ticks are visible to the naked eye. However, ticks on your dog can be under his fur, and therefore hidden from view. For this reason, the best way to check for ticks is by carefully feeling your dog’s body—if a tick is there, you should generally be able to feel it.
What Should I Do If I Locate a Tick on My Dog?
Ticks need to be carefully removed, because contact with the tick’s blood is what transmits infection. First, treat the affected area with rubbing alcohol. Then, gently pluck the tick from your dog’s body with tweezers. Make sure you remove the all of the tick’s body, including its biting head.
Through an abundance of caution, and because you can’t be sure either that you’ve effectively removed the tick or that it hasn’t already transmitted disease, you should always have your dog evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible after you find ticks on him. Your vet can perform appropriate blood tests to identify or rule out disease.
What Are the Symptoms of a Tick Bite?
Symptoms vary widely depending on the type of tick that bites your dog. Your dog could suffer blood loss, anemia, skin irritations, and infections. Some symptoms, however, are more serious.
What Is Tick Paralysis?
A less common and more serious symptom is “tick paralysis,” a condition caused by a neurotoxin produced in the salivary glands of female ticks and released into a dog’s bloodstream while the tick is feeding. The neurotoxin can induce a paralysis which begins in the lower extremities and gradually spreads to upper extremities.
Tick paralysis can be fatal if it moves to a dog’s respiratory system, potentially causing respiratory arrest. Tick paralysis can occur if your dog is bitten by a Rocky Mountain wood tick, an American dog tick, a deer tick, or a Lone Star tick.
What Causes Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a serious bacterial infection that affects dogs, but also humans, cats, and many other mammals. It is primarily carried by the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). Dogs infected with the Lyme disease bacteria can develop depression, loss of appetite, fever, swollen lymph nodes, lameness, and renal failure.
If you observe these symptoms in your dog, you need to take him to your veterinarian immediately. Your vet can diagnose Lyme disease through a physical exam, a blood test and, in some cases, radiographs. If she diagnoses Lyme disease, she will prescribe an antibiotic (Doxycycline or Amoxicillin) to effectively treat the disease. With proper treatment, your dog’s condition should improve, usually within 2 days.
Are There Ways to Prevent Tick Bites?
There are many products—including collars and topical treatments—that will kill both fleas and ticks before they can hurt your dog. You should consider using one of these products, especially if you live in a wooded area. If you have questions about which product is best for your dog, speak with your vet.
At South Boston Animal Hospital, we care about your dog’s health as much as you do. We’ll take the time to answer your questions and give sound advice about how best to protect your dog from tick-borne diseases and other risks to your dog’s well-being. If you have questions or would like to schedule an appointment, contact us today.
About Dr. Natalie Waggener
Dr. Natalie Waggener has 17 years of experience in emergency work and general practice in Rhode Island, Florida and Massachusetts. She has a special interest in dentistry, wellness care and rehabilitation therapy. She is currently licensed in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.