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The symptoms of ticks on dogs

Brown dog in the forest

Find out all the different symptoms of ticks on dogs.

© Unsplash

Our changing climate means that the UK is getting warmer. And with the warmer weather, comes an increasing number of parasites.

By Alice Lang

Updated on the 22/04/2021, 10:23

Ticks are blood-sucking creepy crawlies which can transmit a number of dangerous diseases in dogs. By knowing the tick on dog symptoms and the symptoms of tick diseases, you can help protect your pup from these pesky parasites.

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, potentially even fatal diseases over to your pooch.

How do dogs get ticks?

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. If you walk your dog in areas where there’s plenty of wildlife, they are likely to be at more risk of picking up ticks.

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 or the tick area becomes infected. 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, a reduced appetite, pain and fatigue, particularly if the tick bite becomes infected. In addition to that, some ticks carry diseases which can lead to more worrying symptoms.

Symptoms of tick diseases

If a tick isn’t removed properly or within a timely manner, there are some potential tick diseases which could be passed on to your dog. In the UK, tick-borne disease are relatively uncommon, but it is still important to be aware of them.

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
  • Lack of appetite
  • Pain
  • General malaise
  • Fever
  • Pale or yellow gums
  • Stiff joints
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures

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. 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, 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

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.

Symptoms of babesia

Babesia is a microscopic parasite transmitted in the tick’s saliva into the bloodstream of its host. This is where it wreaks havoc, invading red blood cells and destroying them. Luckily, babesia is not generally found in the UK, however it is common across mainland Europe, so if you travel with your dog, tick prevention is extremely important. Common symptoms of babesia include:

  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Pale or yellow gums
  • Sunken eyes
  • Loss of appetite

If you suspect your dog has contracted babesia, they will need veterinary attention swiftly, as if left untreated, it can end up being fatal.

How soon do you need antibiotics after a tick bite?

Not all tick bites will require antibiotics. If the tick hasn’t been attached long, and the bite area looks relatively comfortable for your dog without discharge, your dog is likely to be fine. Simply clean the area thoroughly with salty water or diluted chlorhexidine antiseptic and monitor it over the next few days.

Prior to cleaning it, you could shave away some of your dog’s fur to be able to assess the skin better. This will also help you to monitor it over the next few days to ensure it doesn’t develop an infection.

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 must get them checked out by your vet at the earliest opportunity.

What does a tick look like in human skin?

Ticks can bite humans too! And chances are, if your dog is prone to picking them up from his walks, you’re just as likely to be bitten at some point. Ticks vary in size, from the size of a tiny freckle to the size of a large pea, so sometimes spotting a tick is easy, while other times it’s almost impossible.

If you live in an area where ticks are prevalent, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of checking over your body in the shower every day to pick up on any ticks which have bitten in recently.

How do you know if you have been bitten by a tick?

Usually, the giveaway factor which tells you you’ve been bitten by a tick, is finding a tick embedded in your or your dog’s skin. However, if you’ve found a mark with no tick, and you’re not sure whether a tick has caused it, you can usually have quite a good idea based on what the bite area looks like. Tick bites tend to form eschars, which are small black ulcers in the middle of the bite area. If the area has a bullseye rash appearance to it, it’s important to see a doctor, as this is a potential symptom of Lyme’s disease.

How to tell if a tick has fed?

When a tick feeds, they swell up with blood and become engorged, but it’s not the feeding process which will cause harm to your dog; it’s the biting process. Tick transmitted diseases are present within the tick’s saliva, and bacteria which can cause tick bite site infections are also present around the tick’s mouthparts. 

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

Reviewed by Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS