If your dog has one or many ticks, you’re likely very concerned and have many questions. Dr. Linda Simon is one of our resident vets here at The Puppy Mag and answers the most important questions surrounding dogs and ticks.
On average, ticks stay on dogs for around 3-7 days. Ticks usually remain on dogs until they are fully engorged before voluntarily detaching themselves. In some cases, ticks can become embedded or stuck and may be attached for longer.
I’ll cover this in full detail below, as well as some very important tips to keep your dog safe and healthy.
What Are Ticks?
Ticks are one of those critters that many of us struggle to see the point of. With their spider-like appearance, desire to live on people and other animals, and ability to transmit dangerous diseases, many would agree the world would be better off without these nasty, little parasites.
Ticks are an external parasite that sits around on vegetation waiting for a warm-blooded creature to pass by. They aren’t choosey and will happily attach to a rat, deer, human, or dog. As long as they can be kept warm and given a nice blood meal, they’re content to hitch a ride!
As owners, we must all be aware of the risks ticks pose and should be regularly checking our dogs for them and using effective tick preventatives. This is especially true in parts of the world where they are prevalent. Remember, ticks pose a significant human health hazard too; raising the importance of strict tick prevention.
How Long Do Ticks Stay On Dogs For?
A tick will stay on its host for several days, happily feeding away until nice and full. Just how long it remains attached for depends on the stage of the life cycle it is in when it latches on.
On average, your dog will have a tick for 3 to 7 days. However, most owners will spot the tick before it decides to voluntarily leave and will remove it prematurely. Doing this is extremely important as it can reduce the risk of disease transmission.
How To Tell How Long a Tick Has Been Attached?
There is no sure-fire way of knowing how long a tick has been attached. Dogs tend to be unaware when a tick has attached as the tick doesn’t generally cause it any discomfort or irritation.
Of course, this is all part of the tick’s ‘grand plan’. They try to be undetectable, making it less likely the dog will scratch or chew them off. Their saliva contains numbing agents, so it is tricky to know when they are attached and feeding. This gives them plenty of time to have some big blood feeds.
As the tick feeds, they will grow. The larger the tick is, the more time they have been attached. ‘Engorgement’ or appearing large and full usually takes a solid two days of feeding. So, if the tick is not yet engorged, they have probably not been there for very long. However, once engorged, it is hard to know if the tick has been there for 2 days or 7.
What Happens If a Tick Gets Embedded or Stuck?
The most common reason a tick will get embedded is if an owner or dog has tried to remove the tick. If this is not done properly, the head part may remain stuck under the pet’s skin. This causes an issue as it can lead to a bacterial infection and discomfort. While removing a tick is important, it does need to be done right.
It can be tricky to spot an embedded tick (or part of a tick) and it may only be visible as a raised lump or dark patch of skin. If this has happened it’s best to clean and disinfect the area before promptly heading to your vets.
Your vet will attempt to safely remove any part of the tick that is remaining and may also need to prescribe some antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.
Ensure your dog is not able to lick or chew at the area, as this could make things worse. A buster collar may be needed for a short-term while their skin heals.
What To Do When You Discover a Tick On Your Dog
If you feel comfortable doing so, you should be able to safely remove the tick yourself. For many owners who live in rural areas, this is part of their life. Checking dogs at the end of the day and removing any ticks found becomes routine.
Ticks can be easily removed using a small tool called a ‘tick remover’. It is a tiny hook that goes under the tick’s body. You spin it around in one direction, forcing the tick to detach itself. Once detached, you can then dispose of the tick safely. The dog’s skin can be cleaned with some saltwater after and the area should be monitored closely for the next few days.
If you’re unsure how to remove the tick or do not feel comfortable doing so, it is best to have your dog seen by a vet ASAP. The longer we wait to remove the tick, the more risk it will pass a serious infection to your dog.
What Diseases Do Ticks Transmit?
Ticks are not only an issue because they can cause anemia and skin infection, they are also the host of some very serious diseases.
Which diseases are transmitted will depend on where you are in the world. Ticks can transmit a range of infections to your dog including (but not limited to):
● Lyme Disease:
This chronic inflammatory disorder can cause a range of symptoms including lameness that comes and goes, a fever, and a bull’s eye rash. This is a significant disease in humans and is notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat successfully.
● Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever:
Symptoms can be similar to Lyme Disease and can include fever, a shifting lameness, a cough, and raised lymph nodes. The treatment of choice tends to be Doxycycline, an antibiotic.
Babesia affects the red blood cells and can cause anemia, dark urine, and weakness. Babesia is a protozoan parasite that is visible on blood smears. Even after treatment, dogs can remain subclinically affected and can suffer relapses.
It is typically the brown dog tick that transmits Ehrlichia. We have recently been seeing more dogs testing positive across the Central and South East of the USA, including in Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama. However, dogs across much of America are at risk from this parasite.
It is not unusual for vets to test for the presence of the above conditions during your pet’s annual wellness check. This is a sensible idea as signs are not always obvious. While there is an extra cost involved with this, it is an important part of monitoring your dog’s health. This is especially true if you live in a tick endemic area or you know your dog has had a tick in the past.
How Can I Stop My Dog From Getting Ticks?
Tick prevention is important in areas where ticks are prevalent. This is imperative not only to protect your dog but also your other pets and your family.
Staying away from long grass and areas you know are riddled with ticks is sensible. Oftentimes, fields occupied by wild deer are a hotspot for ticks.
Many countries have online maps published of areas where ticks are more likely to be found, allowing owners to plan excursions accordingly.
Tick preventatives including collars, spot-ons, and tablets can all be used as needed. These are typically prescribed by a vet.
Do check your dog routinely at the end of the day, ensuring any tick that has attached can be removed promptly.
How Long Does Recovery Take From Ticks?
A tick that has been quickly and expertly removed will generally not cause any issues. If there is no skin infection, the skin where the tick attached will soon be back to normal. We should keep an eye on the skin and wash it daily with salt water for several days.
If the skin has become infected, your dog may develop local dermatitis or abscess. In this case, healing will take a little longer. Your vet will prescribe the appropriate medicine and the skin will need to be kept clean and dry. Depending on the extent of the infection, it may take a few weeks for the skin to return to normal.
Of course, if your dog has been unlucky and has contracted an infectious disease from the tick, their recovery is far less predictable. Unfortunately, tick-borne diseases can be very serious and even life-threatening. It is important that we reach a diagnosis quickly and that your dog is treated right away. Very unwell dogs may need to be admitted to the hospital for several days while being stabilized.
Frustratingly, many of the infectious diseases that are spread by ticks are not easily treated. Dogs can remain carriers of the disease and may experience signs that wax and wane. Worryingly, those pets who are affected can become a ‘reservoir’ of infection and ticks can then spread infection from them to other animals, including humans.
Considering all of the above, it is easy to see why vets recommend we are diligent with our dog’s tick prevention. Indeed, preventing ticks is generally a much easier task than treating the diseases they can transmit.