Skip to main content

Ticks are eight-legged external parasites that feed by sucking blood from animals, including dogs. They can carry many types of disease and transmit these diseases within hours of biting and attaching to a dog.

This article will discuss why checking your dog for ticks is important, how to look for them, and how to remove them properly to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Why Should I Check My Dog for Ticks?

When a tick bites a dog, the bite causes an itchy welt to form on the skin and can also transmit a serious illness, such as tick paralysis, or a bacterial disease, such as Lyme disease. Ticks can transmit certain diseases, like Ehrlichiosis or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, within 3-6 hours after attaching to a dog. Lyme disease can be transmitted within 24-48 hours. Quickly finding and removing a tick from a dog is important to minimize disease transmission.

Ticks are found worldwide and generally prefer environments that are warm and humid. However, some ticks, like the black-legged tick, can survive in below-freezing temperatures. As winters become warmer, climate change is allowing ticks to move into new regions of the United States. They are a common external parasite throughout most of the United States, so protection against them is important no matter where you live. 

Dogs need to be on year-round flea and tick prevention that kills ticks quickly as they try to feed. However, prevention is not 100% effective, and some of these products work better than others. Dogs may become infested if they walk through an area that is heavily populated with ticks, and not every tick will die with prevention. That’s why it’s important to routinely check your dog for ticks.

A tick bite looks like a circular area of inflamed skin that is often red and slightly swollen after a tick is removed. Crusts or a scab may also be present. The skin lesion may be itchy and irritating to a dog. Dogs may want to scratch or lick at a tick bite after the tick is gone, which can cause the area to get infected.

Symptoms will vary depending on the type of tick-borne disease.

How to Check a Dog for Ticks

It is important to check dogs daily for ticks, especially after they have been in an area where ticks are present. Ticks can be found anywhere on a dog’s body but are most common on the feet, neck, head, and ears. Some ticks can be found in the webbing between the toes, or attached to the anus, so looking everywhere on your dog is important.

How to look for ticks on your dog:

  1. First, use your hands to skim the surface of your dog’s skin to see if you feel any bumps that could be a tick. If you feel a bump, part the fur in that area to take a closer look.

  2. You can also use a fine-toothed comb, like a flea comb, to skim your pet’s skin and fur. However, do not use a fine-toothed comb to remove a tick, as it may not remove the tick in its entirety. If you feel something when you run the comb through your pet’s fur, part the fur in that area and take a closer look. 

  3. Inspect in and around your pet’s ears.

  4. Look between the toes on both sides of each paw.

  5. Lift your dog’s tail and look at the underside of the tail and at your dog’s anus to see if any ticks are attached there.

  6. Check your dog’s eyelids, under the collar/harness, and in the armpit regions. These are also places ticks like to hide.

What Do Ticks Look Like?

Ticks range in size based on the type and age of the tick. Ticks mature through four life stages. They hatch from the egg stage, then go through a larval stage and then a nymph stage until they reach the adult stage. Ticks that are in the larval or nymph stage are very tiny and can be overlooked on a dog’s body. The larval stage has six legs and is equivalent in size to a grain of sand. A nymph has eight legs and has been described as the size of a poppy seed or freckle. They can be very difficult to find.

Adult ticks are larger but vary in size and appearance based on species. They can be the size of an apple seed, but female ticks that are engorged (filled with blood from feeding) are easier to find, as they can be the size of a small grape.

How to Remove Ticks from a Dog

It is important to remove a tick in its entirety. If a tick is not removed properly, the head of the tick can remain attached to the dog, which can lead to irritation in the area or possible disease transmission. Tick removal tools can be purchased and they work well. However, a special tool is not necessary; a fine-tipped pair of tweezers that you may already have at home can also do the job.

One caution: Do not apply any chemicals such as nail polish, turpentine, or similar substances to your dog’s skin in an attempt to kill fleas.

How to safely remove a tick:

  1. Grasp the head of the tick with a fine-tipped pair of tweezers, as close to your dog’s skin as possible.

  2. Pull upward with steady pressure until the tick comes off. Make sure not to twist the tweezers, as this may cause the tick to break apart and leave the head or mouth parts still embedded in your dog’s skin.

  3. Check the tick bite to make sure you removed all parts of the tick. If you see that the mouth parts or head of the tick are still attached to your dog’s skin, use your tweezers to remove them.

  4. If you do not feel comfortable removing the tick or are unable to remove the entire tick, schedule an appointment with your local veterinary hospital so that a veterinarian or veterinary technician can help you.

  5. If the tick bite is in an area that can be easily cleaned, after the tick is removed, use a rubbing alcohol wipe (or soapy water) to disinfect the area. However, do not clean a tick bite if it is near your dog’s eyes or mouth.

  6. Dispose of the tick properly.

Maintain a Schedule for Tick Removal

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends checking your dog for ticks daily year-round. Ticks can be resistant to seasonal temperatures, and new species are still being found. There is a lot we have yet to learn about these parasites, and it is important to do everything you can at home to minimize your dog’s risk of having tick bites and the diseases that they can transmit.

Flea and tick prevention should also be administered to your dog year-round. 

How to Check a Dog for Ticks FAQs

How long do ticks live on dogs?

The length of time a tick feeds on a dog depends on the life stage, gender, and species of tick. However, ticks have been found to feed on dogs for up to 12 days before detaching themselves.


What are the symptoms of a tick infestation in dogs?

Even dogs that have numerous ticks on them may show no symptoms, as tick bites are usually painless. However, ticks should be easier to see on your dog if there are many. Dogs that are infested with ticks must be taken to a local veterinary hospital as soon as possible so that a veterinarian can remove the ticks quickly.

When numerous ticks are found, there is an increased likelihood that the dog will develop one or more tick diseases. Removing the ticks quickly is crucial, and monitoring the dog for signs of tick diseases for several weeks thereafter is also important. A tick titer can also be performed to check for various tick diseases.  


How often should I check my dog for ticks?

The CDC recommends checking your dog daily for ticks. They can transmit certain diseases within hours of biting, so finding and removing a tick quickly is important.

References

  1. Shell, L. Veterinary Information Network. Tick Paralysis (Canine). December 2006.

  2. The University of Rhode Island. Tick Encounter.

  3. Alaska Division of Environmental Health. Tick Identification.

  4. Illinois Department of Public Health. Common Ticks.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to Check Your Pet for Ticks. June 2018.

  1. Harvard University. Dog Ticks Change Their Appetite with Rising Global Temperatures.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Tatsiana Volkava

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?