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The symptoms of ticks on dogs

Brown dog in the forest
© Unsplash

Our changing climate means that the UK is getting warmer. And with the warmer weather, comes an increasing number of parasites. Ticks are blood-sucking creepy crawlies which can cause a number of dangerous diseases in dogs. By knowing tick on dog symptoms and the symptoms of tick diseases, you can help protect your pup from these pesky parasites.

By Alice Lang

Updated on the 08/02/2021, 13:51

Dogs of any breed or age can be subject to a tick infestation. A tick in itself isn’t dangerous if removed promptly. However, if the tick is left undetected, it has the potential to spread some nasty, fatal diseases over to your pooch.

How do dogs get ticks?

Ticks on dogs can cause itching, swelling and red skin©Pixabay

“Ticks cannot fly or jump to their hosts but can crawl to them along the floor or ground. They also climb walls and vegetation, lying in wait for a host to brush by” explains Susan Scott, author of Pests of Paradise.

“To get a blood meal, a tick makes a hole in the host’s skin with sharp teeth at the end of its elongated mouth. The tick then drives its barb-lined mouth into the hole. If left alone, the tick’s sharp teeth soon cut into blood vessels beneath the skin, causing blood to pool.” she continued.

Ticks are often lurking in grass, fields, woods, shrubs and forests - but can even be hanging around in your back garden. As soon as your pup brushes past them, they’ll try and attach themselves to anywhere on the body - but mostly the head, neck, paws and ears.

Tick on dog symptoms

Though tick bites themselves are often harmless, it’s important to know what to look for. The longer they’re attached to your dog’s skin, the more likely it is that your dog will become unwell. Keep an eye out for the following signs and symptoms of ticks in dogs:

Itchy, red skin

A tick will burrow parts of its mouth right into your dog’s skin, causing irritation and discomfort. If you notice your dog is itching excessively in one spot, he might have been bitten by a tick. The surrounding skin is likely to be red and irritated.

A lump on the skin

Once ticks have fed on your dog’s blood, they’ll swell up and leave their body poking out, leaving a small yet firm lump. A lump on your dog’s body isn’t just indicative of a tick - it could also be a wart, scab or skin lesion. Take a closer look and see if you can spot the tick to remove it. If you’re in doubt about the lump, see the vet.

Internal symptoms

The symptoms of a tick bite aren’t just external. Dogs who are particularly sensitive to ticks might experience a fever, difficulty eating, pain, fatigue and mood changes as a reaction to bites.

Symptoms of tick diseases

Ticks carry a number of dangerous diseases ©Alvan Nee on Unsplash

If a tick isn’t removed properly or within a timely manner, a variety of tick diseases could be passed on to your dog. At first, the symptoms might be subtle, such as a slight drop in energy and a lack of appetite. But as the disease develops, you might notice the following:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea or general changes in bowel habits
  • Nosebleeds
  • Coughs and sneezing
  • Seizures, confusion, or collapse
  • Difficulty walking or lameness
  • General pain
  • Pale gums

If you notice any of these tick on dog symptoms, your dog could be suffering from a tick-borne disease. It’s vital that you get them to the vet as soon as possible, as some tick diseases can be fatal if left untreated.

Symptoms of Lyme disease

One of the more serious problems caused by ticks is Lyme disease, which is a serious bacterial infection. In some cases, it can lead to kidney failure and death in dogs if not treated.

“Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which is carried by certain types of ticks. Depending on the tick and Borrelia species, transmission can occur rapidly, with the likelihood of infection increasing the longer the tick is attached, so checking your dog for ticks twice daily during tick season is a smart idea.Dr Becker told Healthy Pets. According to Dr Becker, common symptoms of Lyme disease include:

  • Fever
  • Lameness that shifts from leg to leg
  • Hot, painful, swollen lymph node
  • Lethargy
  • Joint swelling
  • Loss of appetite

If you observe any of these symptoms in your dog which worsens quickly and doesn’t get better, it’s important to head to the vet as soon as you can. If Lyme disease is diagnosed, they’ll probably prescribe an antibiotic such as Doxycycline to treat the disease.

Symptoms of tick paralysis

Knowing the symptoms of tick-borne diseases is essential ©Oscar Sutton on Unsplash

Tick paralysis is less common than Lyme disease but is extremely dangerous and often fatal. The condition is developed when a neurotoxin in a female tick’s saliva glands enters into a dog’s bloodstream whilst the tick is feeding on their blood.

Symptoms will usually develop a few days after a dog is bitten by a tick, and include:

  • Panting, grunting or loud breathing
  • Persistent coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty walking and wobbly legs
  • Collapse
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Drooling
  • Dilated pupils

If you suspect your dog might have contracted tick paralysis, act immediately and get to your vet - no matter what time of day or night it is.

What to do if you notice tick on dog symptoms

If you inspect your dog after noticing tick on dog symptoms and find a parasite, you should remove it immediately to prevent the transmission of tick-borne diseases.

The American Kennel Club suggests: “Using a pair of tweezers is the most common and effective way to remove a tick. But not just any tweezers will work. Most household tweezers have large, blunt tips. You should use fine-point tweezers, to avoid tearing the tick and spreading possible infections into the bite area.”

“Spread your dog’s fur, then grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Very gently, pull straight upward, in a slow, steady motion. This will prevent the tick’s mouth from breaking off and remaining embedded in the skin." "People often believe it’s the head of the tick that embeds in the skin. But ticks don’t have heads, in the conventional sense, so what gets inserted into your dog is known as mouthparts”

After removing a tick from your dog’s skin, keep a close eye on them. If they develop any of the symptoms of tick-borne diseases we’ve discussed (even if you haven’t seen a tick in their skin) you absolutely must get them checked out by your vet at the earliest opportunity.

Now that you know all the tick on dog symptoms, you'll be able to keep your dog safe from ticks all year round.