Ticks - what you need to know

Dog scratching itself


Ticks are tiny spider-like creatures that live in woods, areas with long grass, and sometimes in urban parks and gardens (particularly if you live in an area with lots of wildlife, deer or sheep). They're found all over the UK and although are active throughout the whole year, they are most prevalent in spring and autumn.

Ticks do not jump or fly. They are related to spiders so they have eight legs and a flat, oval body that swells when they eat. They are also often very small (think of an apple seed) so can be tricky to spot. They attach to the skin of animals or humans that brush past them.

Once a tick bites into the skin, it feeds on blood for a few days before dropping off.

How to check for ticks

Regular grooming of your dog’s fur will help to identify a tick. First observe their coat – if a tick hasn’t yet attached to your dog’s skin, you may just see them walking over the fur (they can be hard to spot on dark fur). Next, run your hands through their coat – a tick will feel like a bump on your dog’s skin. They are most often found around your dog’s head, ears and feet – areas that your dog will have had low to the ground as they’ve been sniffing around.

Part your dog’s fur to take a closer look. If the tick is very tiny, you may not even realise it is one until you look more closely – it could just look like a bit of grit or dirt in your dog’s fur. More often than not, you will be able to identify the tick by its body and its legs. The head will have penetrated your dog’s skin.

Dependent on how deep the tick has buried into your dog’s skin, it may cause swelling, itchiness and/or bruising.

Dog tick

Are ticks dangerous?

Ticks are good at passing on infections from one animal to another and transmit microbes that cause diseases, the most common being Lyme disease. Not all ticks in England carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease but it’s still important to be aware of ticks and to safely remove them as soon as possible. Lyme disease can also be spread to humans by infected ticks.

The most common signs of Lyme disease in dogs include:

• Fever
• Loss of appetite
• Painful or swollen joints
• Lameness that comes and goes
• Swollen lymph nodes
• Lethargy

If you suspect your dog has Lyme disease, contact your vet who can perform tests and prescribe treatment.

People can catch Lyme disease from ticks with typical symptoms including:

• Circular rash around the tick bite
• Muscle and joint pain
• Fatigue

See a GP if you’ve been bitten by a tick and have a circular rash and/or flu-like symptoms.

How to remove a tick

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

To remove a tick safely:

1. Use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick-removal tool. You can buy these from some pharmacies, vets and pet shops.

2. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.

3. Slowly pull upwards, taking care not to squeeze or crush the tick. Dispose of it when you have removed it.

4. Clean the bite with antiseptic or soap and water.

The chance of getting ill is low. You do not need to do anything else unless you notice a rash or become unwell.

Removal of tick from dog's ear

How to prevent against ticks

Tick avoidance plays a role in disease control. While highly effective products (such as sprays and monthly oral or “spot-on” products) are available for use with dogs, they must be used consistently in order to provide effective long term tick control. Vaccines that prevent infection in dogs are available; vaccination and appropriate boosters may be recommended by your veterinarian if you live in an area where Lyme disease is common. Any ticks found on your dog should be promptly removed in order to help prevent transmission of Lyme disease and other diseases spread by ticks.

To reduce the chance of a human tick bite:

• Cover your skin while walking outdoors and tuck your trousers into your socks
• Use insect repellent on your clothes and skin – products containing DEET are best
• Stay on clear paths whenever possible
• Wear light-coloured clothing so ticks are easier to see and brush off

In summary, although ticks are common, the chance of getting ill is low. You can take precautions to prevent ticks and, by ensuring you regularly check your dog’s fur you will be able to identify and remove ticks without any complications.