The Ticking Bomb

by Lorie Huston, DVM

Ticks are external parasites that attach to the skin of a dog and then proceed to feed off of the dog’s blood. Not only are ticks uncomfortable for the dog, they can also carry a number of diseases that can be passed on to the dog. Some of these diseases can be deadly if not caught and treated early in the progress of the disease.

In addition to being a threat to the dogs in a household, ticks can also “hitch-hike” into a home on a dog’s fur and then find their way to a human host. In other words, they can attach themselves to the human members of the household rather than the canine members. Just like in dogs, a tick will feed off of the blood of a person and may also pass disease on to that person.

There are numerous varieties (species) of ticks that infest dogs and the most common types vary depending on geographical location. Tick exposure is most common during the warmer months. However, even in colder temperatures, under certain environmental conditions, ticks can still remain active.

Ticks can attach anywhere on the body of a dog but are most often found around the neck, in the ears, between the toes or in the area between the legs and the body.

Common Tick-Borne Diseases

Some of the most common diseases carried by ticks include
  • Lyme disease,
  • ehrlichiosis,
  • anaplasmosis,
  • babesiosis, and
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
All of these diseases are transmissible to dogs and all of them can be passed to people as well. It is unlikely that a person would contract one of these diseases through direct contact with an infected dog. However, dogs can transport disease-carrying ticks into the home or yard where the ticks may then choose a human host.

Symptoms of these tick-borne diseases can range from mild to quite severe and even life-threatening in infected dogs and dogs may be infected with more than one disease simultaneously.

Controlling Ticks

Controlling ticks can be difficult, especially if the pet frequents tick-infested areas on a regular basis. A thorough examination of your pet’s skin on a daily basis is the best form of prevention. Any ticks found should be removed promptly. However, some types of ticks are extremely small and may not be easily visible, especially in long-haired dogs.

There are numerous topical medications that can be applied monthly to control both fleas and ticks. The use of these products is advantageous for dogs that are apt to become infested with ticks. However, these products are not without the potential for side effects. Always read the label directions for any product used on your dog and follow the directions carefully. Do not apply products that are inappropriate for your pet’s species, age or weight range.

When walking, keep your dog in the center of paths and walkways. Avoid tick-infested areas, if possible.

Discourage wildlife from visiting your yard and garden. Many types of wildlife carry ticks and can leave them in your yard and/or garden when visiting. Though ticks are most common in wooded areas or areas with high grasses, do not rule out the possibility of ticks being present in your manicured yard or garden if birds, squirrels, raccoons, skunks and other types of wildlife visit there.

How to Safely Remove a Tick from Your Dog

If you find a tick on your dog, grasp the tick’s body firmly close to where the tick’s head is attached to your dog’s body. Apply gentle but steady traction backward (away from your dog’s body) to remove the tick.

Never handle a tick without wearing gloves. Remember that the tick can cause human infection as well. Take the necessary precautions to avoid contact of any tick blood with your own skin. Discard of live ticks by placing them in a small container of alcohol to kill them.

After removing a tick from your dog, clean the area of attachment with alcohol or another disinfectant. A small scab and minor amount of swelling may be present at the attachment site and is expected. However, if the swelling does not regress within a few days, if you see any discharge from the wound, or if you are unsure whether the tick’s mouthparts were removed when you removed the tick, a veterinary visit is recommended.


  1. Meep. I'm practically afraid to go outside during the summer (we are surrounded by farmland, aka fields) because of those little pests. I am literally terrified of them...and so much so that it affects the way I walk my dogs and if I walk them at all. (Lucky for them, there's tennis in the hard, frisbee, and agility to play instead.)
    And still, after playtime, I do our customary massage, going over every square inch in search of bumps, bruises, and bugs. Dogs love it, despite the fact that it seems invasive. Haha.

  2. Well, not every field has them. Thankfully, we don't have them up on the ranch, only last time there were two 'stray' ones, of course one of them immediately bit Jasmine's ear :-(

    This year nor the previous years we didn't encounter any, so hopefully it was just a fluke.

    We equipped ourselves with the tick twister, seems to be an awesome product.

    The other upside that Lyme disease is not reported in the region.

    So knock on wood.

  3. I found a deer tick on my dog two weeks ago and pulled it off. Three days later I got him on antibiotics (the common one beginning with a D). The wierd thing was after being on that for one week, he developed smptoms -- lameness in his bag such thta he could hardley get up and couldn't jump up on the bed. I continued the treatment and the symptoms seem to have subsided. Why would that happen after being on the antibiotics? from what I have read it they uisually go away a few days after beginning treatment. Do you think I should keep him on for two more week? i am really worried...It was so hard to see my young dog turn into an old dog overnight.

  4. Hi! I asked Dr. Huston to drop by to read your comment.

    Meanwhile - what prompted you to start the treatment before the symptoms appeared? Just wondering.

    Did you at any point confirm the diagnosis and got the antibiotic prescribed from your vet?

    It is my understanding that the Lyme treatment needs to be given for at least 2 to 4 weeks.

  5. I’m sorry to hear about your dog’s lameness but I’m glad he seems improved now. Unfortunately, I really don’t know enough about your situation to be able to answer all of your questions. I’m not certain that we can be sure that the symptoms you saw were truly due to Lyme disease, although it sounds possible. Was your dog seen by a veterinarian? Was he tested for Lyme disease? Is it possible that he has another type of lameness issue, such as an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury, a patellar injury or a muscle injury? An examination by your veterinarian would likely be necessary to diagnose those types of issues.

    Many veterinarians do recommend continuing antibiotics for Lyme disease for 28 days. However, you should consult with your own veterinarian regarding how long the antibiotics should be continued for your individual situation. Remember also that if the antibiotic that your dog is receiving is doxycycline, it has anti-inflammatory properties also. So, non-Lyme disease symptoms do sometimes improve with this medication as well.


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