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What does a tick look like on a dog?

Knowing how to quickly and safely remove ticks from your pets is a vital skill for any pet owner to learn. While using a regular preventative tick product can cut the likelihood that you’ll see ticks on your dog in the first place, knowing how to spot them will mean you are ready to act if you need to. But it can be difficult to determine what a tick actually looks like on a dog, so read on to learn more.
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Ticks are particularly dangerous parasites that can carry diseases that have the potential to affect humans as well as dogs. To help keep your dog protected, it’s recommended that you regularly use a preventative tick treatment.

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Pet owner relaxing on the couch with his cat and dog, both protected against ticks with their Seresto flea and tick control collars
What do dog ticks look like?

Ticks vary in size depending on their life stage and how recently they’ve fed. They can start off as small as a pin head and their size increases once they fill with blood.

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Tick on a dog before it has started feeding

In general, ticks are small, round and grey/brown in colour. They can occasionally get mistaken for skin lumps, but on closer inspection, you should be able to see the tick’s legs (speak to your vet if you’re unsure). When fully engorged after feeding, the common UK dog tick is grey coloured and around 1cm in diameter.

Despite often being discussed alongside fleas and other insects, ticks are actually arachnids, just like spiders, and they even have the eight legs to prove it.

There are different types of ticks that can affect dogs, though not all are found in the UK. All ticks are able to transmit disease.   

Castor bean tick

Also known as the “sheep tick” or “deer tick”, the castor bean tick (Ixodes ricinus) is the most common tick in the UK and it’s widely distributed around the country. This tick can transmit Lyme disease to both dogs and people, this can be a debilitating disease for humans and can cause serious symptoms in dogs as well. 

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Magnified castor bean tick on grass
Meadow or Marsh tick

Although rare in the UK, the Meadow or Marsh tick (Dermacentor reticulatus) has been found in pockets in the South East of England and Wales. It can transmit a very nasty disease called babesiosis to dogs. 

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Magnified Meadow or Marsh tick on grass
Brown Dog Tick

The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) requires high temperatures to reproduce so is not naturally found in the UK. But it's a very common tick in Southern Europe, and has been found on UK dogs that have returned home after travelling abroad. This tick can transmit diseases called babesiosis and ehrlichiosis to dogs, which can be fatal. If you take your dog on holiday, he could be at risk of these diseases, which is why tick protection is so important, both in the UK and abroad. 

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Magnified Brown Dog tick on grass
How do I look for ticks on my dog?

It’s important to check your dog for ticks regularly, especially if you live in, or you’re visiting an area known for having a high population of ticks. They’re not always easy to see, especially on a long-haired breed, so conducting regular tick checks is advisable.

When you get back from a walk, run your hands over your dog’s body, feeling for any small bumps on the skin. When ticks begin feeding, they fill with blood and feel like small bumps when you stroke or groom your pet.

 After climbing onto a host animal, a tick will often migrate to an area that has less hair, before locking into place to feed. When looking for ticks, pay particular attention to areas around your dog's head, legs and paws, groin and armpits. 

However, some ticks are just difficult to spot, so it’s worth knowing about the possible signs your dog has been bitten, although without having seen a tick it’s always very hard to know for sure. 

 

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Check your dog for ticks after going for walks, especially in areas where ticks are common
Do I need to take my dog to the vet if I find a tick?

If you find a tick in a difficult to reach or sensitive area of your dog’s body (such as inside the ear), you might want to visit your vet to remove it for you. In many cases though, you’ll be able to remove any ticks yourself. 

If you do find a tick on your pet, it needs to be removed safely and as soon as possible – don’t wait too long before tick removal, a tick can feed for days, and the longer they feed, the higher the chance that they will pass a disease on to your pet.   

It’s important to remove the tick carefully using a tick hook to ensure the mouthparts are removed intact and not left behind. If any part of the tick is left under the skin, there is the potential for infection at the site of the tick bite. 

Get more advice on how to safely remove a tick from your dog once it has latched on.

 

Where is my dog most likely to be bitten by a tick?

Dogs are often exposed to ticks when walking through grassy areas and woodland.

Ticks are more prevalent in areas where deer or sheep graze so make sure you check your dog thoroughly after walking in these areas.

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Dog looking sideways and standing in grassy area – where ticks like to lie in wait

If your dog seems unwell in the weeks or months following tick removal, seek advice from your vet, and let them know about the tick bite. Symptoms of Lyme disease don’t always appear for a few months after a bite from an infected tick, so although a tick bite from a few months ago might not seem relevant, it’s definitely worth mentioning. Symptoms like fatigue, loss of appetite, lameness and generally not seeming their usual selves always warrant a vet visit, though of course these can be seen with other conditions as well, so your vet is best placed to check your dog over and advise you. 

Which tick-borne diseases are dangerous to people?

Ticks can sometimes cause irritation, inflammation and infection at the feeding site. But the biggest health concern is their ability to transmit tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, which isn’t just a disease in dogs – it can also seriously affect human health.

Just like dogs, people can get Lyme disease via a bite from an infected tick. In the early stages symptoms of Lyme disease in people include:

  • Red “bullseye” rash around the tick bite (which can appear many weeks after the tick has gone)
  • flu-like symptoms
  • tiredness
  • muscle and joint pain
  • headaches

Longer term if the disease isn’t treated, it can lead to problems like facial palsy (which is a weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles), pain and swelling in joints and nerve problems, among others. 

If you suspect you’ve been bitten by a tick, see a suspicious rash, or are worried you may have contracted Lyme disease, speak to your GP for advice.  

How can I prevent my dog getting ticks?

The best way to help protect your dog is to use a regular tick preventative.  

Seresto flea and tick control collar kills fleas and repels and kills ticks for up to eight months in a single application. The collar’s ability to repel ticks before they bite helps reduce the risk of tick bites, which in turn reduces the risk of tick-borne diseases1.

References:

  1. An attachment of single ticks after treatment cannot be excluded; for this reason, a transmission of infectious diseases cannot be completely excluded if conditions are unfavourable.