Tick top image

Dogs and ticks

  • Ticks can cause disease by transmitting  bacteria and microbes when they bite an animal or human
  • They are common in woodland, grassland and heath areas
  • Always check your dog and yourself for ticks after a walk and remove them quickly

Ticks are spider-like, egg-shaped, blood-sucking creepy crawlies. They have eight legs and vary in size from about 1mm to 1cm long. Adult ticks look a bit like small spiders.

Ticks are common in woodland, grassland and heath areas, but can also be found in your garden if you live in an area with lots of wildlife. You are most likely to come across them in areas with lots of deer or sheep.

You are most likely to come across ticks between spring and autumn, but they are active throughout the year.

Ticks don’t fly or jump, but climb or drop on to your dog’s coat when you brush past the area they are sitting in.

How do I know if my dog has a tick?

Ticks are big enough to spot. Run your hands over your dog’s body when you get back from a walk to check for any lumps or bumps. A tick will feel like a small bump on your pet’s skin.

They tend to attach themselves to areas around a dog’s head, neck, ear and feet. Brushing also helps to remove them.

Ticks vary in size between 1mm and 1cm long, depending on their age. They look like tiny spiders with a whiteish, egg-shaped body. This body becomes larger and darker as it fills with blood.

How do I remove a tick from my dog safely?

Ticks carry diseases, so it’s important to remove any that attach themselves to your dog as soon as possible. Rapid removal lessens the risk of disease. 

This can be tricky, as you need to be careful not to squeeze the tick’s body, or allow its head to get stuck inside your dog. Squeezing a tick’s body can cause it to expel blood back into your dog, increasing the risk of infection. 

Twisting them off your dog is the best removal method, and pet shops sell handy tick-removal devices to make this easier. Ask your vet for advice.

Why should I protect my dog against ticks?

Cat tick on human thumb
Ticks vary in size from 1mm to 1cm. Photo by Stuart Meek.

Ticks are very good at passing on infections from one animal to another. They feed by biting an animal and feasting on blood. This may take several days. Once they have had enough, they drop off.

Ticks transmit microbes that cause diseases, such as Lyme disease and babesiosis.

If you live in an area with ticks, it’s a good idea to use a tick treatment that will either repel ticks or kill them if they attach. Spot on treatments, tablets and collars are available and it’s best to consult your vet about which is most suitable for your pet. Read the instructions very carefully as some treatments are for dogs only and can be very dangerous to cats and can even kill them. 

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a serious bacterial infection. If your dog has Lyme disease, you may notice they become depressed and lose their appetite. Other symptoms include fever, lameness, swollen and painful joints, and swollen lymph nodes.

If you think your pet has Lyme disease, contact your vet. They can perform tests and start treatment with antibiotics.

What is babesiosis?

Babesiosis is extremely rare in the UK and the tick that spreads it is so far only found in southern England and on the continent. The first cases of dogs being treated for the disease, caused by the bacterium Babesia, were reported in March 2016.

Babesiosis can be spread by tick bites. The incubation period is about two weeks, but some pets are not diagnosed with the disease for months or years after transmission. 

If your dog is suffering from babesiosis you may notice they are depressed, have pale gums, a swollen abdomen and a fever. They may also lose their appetite and their skin may become yellowish. 

If you notice any of these symptoms after walking your dog in a tick-infested area, contact your vet and make sure to tell them your dog may have been bitten by a tick. Sadly a dog has died after contracting the disease in Harlow, Essex.

Does babesiosis affect cats?

Recent confirmed cases of babesiosis in Essex have been caused by the Babesia canis strain. This is not thought to affect cats or other animals and is not a risk to humans.

How can I avoid being bitten by a tick?

Dog owners are more likely to be bitten by ticks if they walk their dogs in areas with a high tick population. Hikers and people who exercise in woodland and the countryside are at risk too.

The best way to avoid a tick-borne disease is to avoid being bitten by a tick.

Wear long sleeved tops when out walking and either tuck trousers into socks, or wear long socks.

Check your clothes for ticks and brush them off quickly if you spot any.

You can also use an insect repellent.

How can I remove a tick from my body?

Ticks should be removed from your body as quickly as possible. Be very careful not to squeeze the tick’s body, or allow its head to get stuck inside your body. Squeezing a tick’s body increases the risk of infection. 

Twisting them off your dog is the best removal method, and pet shops sell handy tick-removal devices to make this easier. 

Do not try to burn the tick off and don’t cover it with lotions, oils or moisturisers in an attempt to smother it.

After you’ve removed the tick, give the bite area a good wash.

If you develop a rash around the tick bite – these often look like red rings around the bite area – or feel unwell, contact your doctor and make sure to tell them you have been bitten by a tick. The earlier you seek treatment from your doctor, the better.

Can I catch a disease from a tick?

People can catch Lyme disease from ticks, just as dogs can.

Lyme disease is serious, so if you walk your dog in areas with deer or sheep make sure you take precautions to avoid being bitten (see above).

Symptoms of Lyme disease include a circular rash, muscle and joint pain, and fatigue. Left untreated, the disease can develop into conditions such as viral-like meningitis, facial palsy, arthritis and nerve damage.

Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics if caught early. Remember to tell your doctor you have been bitten by a tick.

Be particularly careful abroad as ticks in Europe can transmit a number of serious diseases.

Take our tick quiz

— Page last updated 09/07/2020

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