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Ticks on Dogs Symptoms: What to Look For

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Common symptoms of ticks include Itching, scratching, licking, or chewing at various areas. Run your fingers through its fur. If you feel bumps on its skin, check for ticks. Insist in the face area, neck, armpits, torso, and between the toes.

Is your dog acting weird after your daily walks? Is it itching and scratching all day? Maybe just licking and chewing at various areas of its body? 

If that is the case with your dog, make sure it doesn’t have ticks. Ticks are good at hiding and can be difficult to find, especially if they are small and unfed.

As a dog owner, the last thing you want for your pet is to be bitten by ticks. Depending on the species, a tick can transmit microorganisms to your dog that can endanger its life or release a neurotoxin that can cause fatal paralysis.

In this article, you will learn what a tick is, what the symptoms of ticks on dogs are, the side effects of ticks, tick-borne diseases, and more.

What Is a Tick?

A tick is a blood-sucking mite that parasitizes mammals, including dogs. It has four evolutionary stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Only the last three feed on blood, but not adult males; their only purpose is to reproduce, dying afterward.

Due to global warming, ticks are active almost throughout the year, but more predominant from spring to fall.

A female tick, after it reproduces, lays up to 5000 eggs at once. After the larvae hatch, they start looking for warm-blooded mammals, and one of them could be your dog.

Larvae are 0.5 mm in size and are barely noticeable. After they feed, they drop off in the environment, looking for a place to molt. They then turn into nymphs.

Nymphs are about 1 mm long (as big as a poppy seed) and follow the same feeding pattern as larvae.

In the molting process, nymphs differentiate sexually and become adult females and males. Only female ticks feed with blood, while the purpose of males is to reproduce.

Besides causing itchiness and redness to our pets, ticks can also transmit dangerous diseases. 

What Is a Tick

Signs of Ticks on Dogs

Common signs of ticks in dogs are itching, scratching, and general discomfort in various places. If your dog starts acting strange, scratching its body, check for ticks.

Ticks can tickle your dog with its feet when walking through its fur, which can cause itching and scratching. They can also cause pain when cutting your dog’s skin to insert their feeding tube.

Although their tick saliva is an anesthetic, it can cause a local reaction that can lead to itching and scratching.

You can also feel them with your fingers when petting your dog. They feel like a bump, skin tag, or a dried skin flake, depending on how much they feed.

Attached ticks that have fallen off your pet can leave a crater into your dog’s skin. It can be painful, and you can see your dog licking that area.

You can see the following behaviors and symptoms if your dog has ticks:

Inspect closely the areas you see your dog biting and grooming too often.

Related: What Does a Tick Look Like on a Dog?

Signs of Ticks on Dogs
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Side Effects of Ticks on Dogs

Besides transmitting pathogens for some infectious diseases, ticks can also induce allergies and cause toxicoses and paralysis that can be fatal for the host.

The species of ticks that cause paralysis in dogs (and humans) are:

  • Ixodes holocyclus (Australian paralysis tick)
  • I. cornuatus (Tasmanian paralysis tick)

Ixodes holocyclus is found along the east coast of Australia[1], while I. cornuatus is found across Tasmania, Victoria, and southern New South Wales[2].

These species of ticks release a neurotoxin, which they inject into the host’s bloodstream when feeding, causing muscle paralysis (Ixodes holocyclus) and bulbar palsy, and respiratory failure (I. cornuatus).[3]

The size of the tick does not reflect the severity of the disease. A single Australian paralysis tick can kill a large breed dog.

Only 5% of dogs die from tick-borne paralysis[4]

Although this type of paralysis is rare in dogs, the symptoms occur in approximately 7 days and include:

  • Heavy breathing – panting and loud breathing
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Excess salivation
  • Vomiting
  • Incoordination – wobbly legs, especially the hind legs
  • Dogs tend to sit more than usual
  • In 2-3 days, the paralysis progresses to all four legs, and the dog won’t be able to walk
  • Collapse

If tick paralysis is not treated immediately, the disease almost always leads to respiratory or heart failure, and the dog dies in a short time.

Related: Can Ticks Kill Dogs?

Tick Bite Diseases in Dogs

Tick bite diseases, also known as tick-borne diseases, are caused by the microorganisms a tick carries and transmits to your dog when feeding. The most common ones are Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and others.

Not all species of ticks transmit dangerous diseases to dogs. A tick must carry the microorganisms to infect your dog. Not all infected ticks make dogs sick.

Ticks infect dogs when they feed on their blood. Along with feeding, they inject saliva into the dog’s bloodstream. Their saliva is an anesthetic and has anticoagulant properties.

A tick stocks the microorganisms into its guts and releases them through its saliva, infecting your dog. It can take up to 6 hours of feeding until infecting your dog, for ehrlichiosis, and up to 3 days, for Lyme disease.

The onset of symptoms varies depending on the disease. 

For example, symptoms of babesiosis can occur within 7-14 days after the tick bite, while the symptoms of Lyme disease can show up in 2-5 months or don’t show at all.

Related: Can Ticks Kill Dogs?

Tick Bite Diseases in Dogs

How to Find a Tick on Your Dog?

The most common and effective way to find ticks on your dog is to check your pet after each walk and focus on some particular areas. Feel your dog’s skin with your fingertips. If you find a bump or a skin tag, inspect closely.

The easiest ticks to find and see are engorged ticks. They look like a small green-silver grape.

Larvae are not so easy to spot. They are about 0.5 mm in size and very hard to distinguish.

Dried or unfed ticks are black and may feel like a skin flake.

Inspect your pet closely whenever you think you felt something and focus on these areas:

  • Around and inside the ears
  • Around the eyes
  • Under the chin on the neck
  • Armpits
  • Between the toes or skinfolds

Related: How to Find Ticks on Dogs

How to Find Engorged Ticks on Dogs

What to Do if You Find a Tick on Your Dog?

If you find a tick on your dog, remove it immediately. There are many ways to remove a tick. Make sure you properly dispose of it and disinfect the bitten area.

You found a tick, now what? Remove it immediately. Grab a pair of tweezers and pull it out.

If you don’t think you can handle it, take your pet to the vet. 

The tick should be removed completely without its mouthpieces being left behind. If the mouthpieces aren’t removed properly, they can cause a local reaction and even infection.

Disinfect your pet’s bitten area and keep an eye on possible infections. If the skin remains irritated for too long or an infection occurs, take your pet to the vet.

How to Remove Ticks

There are plenty of methods to choose from if you want to remove a tick. The most common one is using tweezers. It can be difficult at first, but it gets easier with time.

What you have to do is:

  • Split your pet’s hair in two where you found the tick
  • Grab the tick with the tweezers as close as possible to the skin
  • Pull up applying little force and pressure
  • Do not jerk or twist
  • Make sure the mouthparts did not remain in the skin
  • Disinfect the bitten area
  • Dispose of the tick – you can wrap it in an adhesive band, put it in alcohol or acetone, or flush it down the toilet, but only if it’s dead

You can also dab a cotton ball in alcohol and cover the tick with it. Leave it there for a moment, and the tick should come out on its own. This method is not as effective as using tweezers.

Related: How to Remove a Tick From a Dog?

How to Remove Ticks

How to Prevent Ticks

You can prevent ticks by applying antiparasitic substances to your dog, in the garden, and in its cage. Performing a thorough check-up all over its body after each walk is also a good idea.

There are all kinds of antiparasitic substances on the market:

  • Tablets
  • Powders
  • Spot-on pipettes
  • Collars

Anti-fleas and ticks spot-on pipettes are the most commonly used products in preventing ticks in dogs because they are cheap and effective.

Spot-on pipettes’ efficacy lasts for about 4 weeks. Veterinarians recommend using an antiparasitic collar in addition to the spot-on pipette applied monthly, especially in summer. The collars’ efficacy lasts for 6-8 months, depending on the product.

It is also recommended to use antiparasitic substances in various places:

  • The garden
  • The areas where the dog stays the most
  • The dog’s cage

Conclusion

Ticks can be harmful to dogs and cause a lot of trouble. If you see your dog scratching or overgrooming more than it should, check it for ticks and fleas, or go to see a vet.

The best method to keep ticks away is prevention. Use antiparasitic substances on your dog and perform regular check-ups when you come home from a walk.

About Iulia Mihai (DVM)

Dr. Iulia is a certified veterinarian with more than 10 years of experience in the field. With extensive knowledge of diet, care, and medication, she helps Misfit Animals provide readers with accurate knowledge on technical topics.

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