Ticks on dogs: essential facts to keep your
dog safe

Ticks on dogs

Ticks can cause serious and potentially fatal diseases in dogs. Read on to find out everything you need to know about ticks on dogs and how to keep your dog safe.

 

When you own a pet, the last thing you want is for them to be bitten by ticks. They are common parasites of dogs and cats around the world, and Australia is no different. There are different types of Australian ticks to be aware of, particularly the Australian paralysis tick, which can cause deadly tick paralysis symptoms. 


As a dog owner, you need to know what to do to protect your dog against ticks, and what to do if your dog gets a tick. Take a look at how to identify ticks on dogs and what to do if you find a tick on your dog. 


What do Dog Ticks Look Like?

Ticks on dogs

To identify ticks you need to know:

  • What do dog ticks look like?
  • What does a tick bite look like on a dog?
  • What does an embedded tick look like on a dog?

 

Ticks on dogs tend to be about the size of an apple seed when they have not fed, and can vary in colour, depending on the species. After they attach to the skin and take a blood meal from their host, ticks become ‘engorged’. When this happens, they can be as big as your little fingernail. Not all ticks look the same, and ticks tend to look different throughout their lifecycle, so if you’re not sure if it’s a tick, it’s best to consult your vet. 


The Types of Ticks on Dogs

It’s important to know what different types of ticks look like and how to spot them.

 

There are three main tick species that infest dogs in Australia: paralysis ticks, brown dog ticks, and bush ticks. 

 

  • Paralysis Ticks: Paralysis ticks are typically found along the east coast of Australia, from Cape York in the north, all the way down to Lakes Entrance in Victoria. They are occasionally seen outside this area (e.g. the greater Melbourne area). They are one of the most dangerous parasites that can affect your pet as they produce a toxin which causes tick paralysis in dogs and cats. 

 

  • Brown dog ticks: The brown dog tick is widely distributed throughout Australia. Although these brown ticks cannot cause paralysis, they can cause skin irritation and heavy infestations may result in anaemia from excessive blood loss. Brown dog ticks can also transmit potentially fatal infections from one dog to another. Ehrlichia canis is one such bacteria that is transmitted by brown dog ticks.  This potentially fatal brown dog tick disease was identified for the first time in Australia in 2020.

 

  • Bush tick: Australia is home to bush ticks which are found along parts of the east and west coast. If you find a bush tick on your dog, it is important to remove it.  Bush ticks can cause skin irritation and can also transmit potentially fatal diseases when they bite (e.g. babesiosis).

 

How do Dogs Get Ticks?

So, how do ticks get on dogs in the first place? It will typically be during their adventures in the great outdoors. Ticks ‘quest’ to find a host, which involves crawling up low grass or shrubs and lying in wait. Ticks are sensitive to heat and the carbon dioxide that your dog exhales, which alerts them that there’s a suitable host nearby. When your pet pooch brushes past on a walk or while playing outside, the tick uses its front legs to grab on, then crawls over the coat and through the fur to find a suitable place to attach and feed.

 

Ticks manage to get on dogs all year round in Australia, but the highest risk is in spring and summer. 

 

The Problems Ticks Cause in Dogs

As mentioned above, there are different types of ticks on dogs. Depending on the tick species, they can cause deadly tick paralysis or transmit other harmful and potentially fatal diseases to dogs. At the very least, a tick bite may cause irritation where it attaches to your dog. 


The Symptoms of Ticks on Dogs

The signs and symptoms of ticks being present on dogs will vary depending on the type of tick involved.

Brown dog tick symptoms may include irritation of the skin or anaemia. Paralysis tick symptoms in dogs, however, may include one or more of the following signs (it usually takes three days or more after a paralysis tick attaches before signs develop):

  • A loss of coordination in the hind legs (wobbly or not being able to get up) which may progress to paralysis.
  • A change in voice or bark.
  • You may notice your dog vomiting after a tick bite.
  • Retching, coughing or loss of appetite.
  • Laboured breathing or rapid breathing.
  • You may notice that your dog is lethargic after a tick bite.

Should you notice symptoms of a tick bite in your dog, you should seek immediate veterinary attention.

 

Can Humans Catch Ticks From Dogs?

Ticks on dogs

Humans can also be bitten by ticks, but they are usually picked up from walking through vegetation, and it is unlikely you can catch ticks from dogs while in contact with them.


It is uncommon to see tick paralysis in humans, but when it does occur, young children are more commonly affected. Bites from paralysis ticks may trigger the development of mammalian meat allergy in humans.

 

Can Humans Catch Ticks From Dogs?

Humans can also be bitten by ticks, but they are usually picked up from walking through vegetation, and it is unlikely you can catch ticks from dogs while in contact with them.

 

It is uncommon to see tick paralysis in humans, but when it does occur, young children are more commonly affected. Bites from paralysis ticks may also trigger the development of mammalian meat allergy in humans.
 

How to Find Ticks on Dogs

It is important to known how to check your dog for ticks, as they can be difficult to find. When learning how to find ticks on their dogs, it is important to be extremely thorough. Most of the time ticks are found around the head and neck area, however they can be anywhere on the body so checking all over is required. Gently move your fingertips through the coat at the level of the skin, feeling for any bumps. Start at the head and neck (don’t forget the mouth and ears), continue down the front legs to the paws, checking in between and underneath the toes. Then search the chest, belly, back, tail and back legs. Watch our demonstration video on how to check dogs for ticks.

 

What to Do if a Tick is Found

While it is important to be comfortable searching for ticks, it is also important to know what to do if you find a tick. Given the adverse health effects that can be caused, it is understandable if your first instinct may be to panic, but try to remain as calm as possible in order to act quickly. It is important to remove ticks as soon as possible if you find one on your dog.


How to Remove a Tick From a Dog

You may be wondering exactly how to remove a tick from a dog. As mentioned above, if you find a tick on your dog, it should be removed as soon as possible. The best way to remove a tick from a dog is with tweezers or specially-designed tick removal tools.

 
Please see the instructions below for how to get a tick off your dog.

  • To remove a tick, tweezers or specially-designed tick removal tools can be used. Grab the tick adjacent to your dog’s skin (at the tick mouthparts), twist the tick, then pluck the tick away from the skin. Take care not to squeeze the tick’s body. 
  • After removal, store the tick in a sealed container for identification by your veterinarian.
  • It is possible for a dog to develop signs and symptoms of tick paralysis even after you remove a tick from a dog, so it is recommended to keep a close eye on your dog for a few days. If you have any concerns about your dog’s health, you should seek immediate veterinary attention.

 

How to Remove a Tick from a Dog with Vaseline

Using Vaseline to kill ticks on dogs is not recommended. It is important to remove ticks as soon as possible with tweezers or a specially-designed tick removal tool.

 

How to Remove a Tick from a Dog with Alcohol

Similar to the use of Vaseline, the use of alcohol to kill ticks on dogs is not recommended. It is important to remove ticks as soon as possible with tweezers or a specially-designed tick removal tool. Ticks can be placed in alcohol after removal to kill them.


How to Remove an Engorged Tick from a Dog

A tick will become engorged once it has fed and become swollen with blood. You may be concerned about how best to remove larger, engorged ticks from their dog, but the process is similar for ticks of all sizes. Using tweezers or a specially-designed tick removal tool, grab the tick adjacent to your dog’s skin (at the tick mouthparts), twist the tick, then pluck the tick away from the skin. Take care not to squeeze the tick’s body.
 

How to Prevent Ticks on Dogs 

Given the potentially life-threatening diseases they can cause, it is only natural to want to learn about how to avoid ticks on dogs. Unfortunately, if your dog likes to spend time outdoors, there’s no way to completely avoid contact with ticks, but you can help protect against ticks by checking your dog daily and using a proven tick treatment like NexGard® or NexGard SPECTRA®. Just one monthly chew provides effective control of pre-existing paralysis ticks within 24 hours and provides protection for a full month against paralysis ticks, brown dog ticks and bush ticks.


Although tick control products will control most of the ticks that your pet may be exposed to, it only takes one tick to cause tick paralysis. For this reason, it is important to also perform daily tick searches on your pet. If you live in, or you and your pet are visiting a known tick area, it is recommended to search your pet daily for ticks and tick craters (scabby, circular skin lesions where a tick was previously attached).

 

How to Prevent Ticks on Dogs Naturally

It is important to use effective and proven tick control products for dogs, such as NexGard® or NexGard SPECTRA®. There is a lack of evidence on the safety or effectiveness of many natural remedies for ticks. If you have questions about the most appropriate options for parasite control for your dog, please speak to your vet.


Tick Paralysis Life Cycle

The eastern paralysis tick is the primary cause of tick paralysis in Australia. It is found along the east coast from North Queensland to Victoria. The life cycle of the paralysis tick has four stages: eggs, larvae , nymphs and adults.  
It is adult female ticks that primarily cause tick paralysis. Numbers of adult ticks peak in the spring and early summer which is why this is the highest risk period, although tick paralysis can occur all year round.


How is Tick Paralysis Diagnosed?

A diagnosis of tick paralysis is made when a dog develops typical symptoms and a paralysis tick or a tick crater is found (a tick crater is a skin lesion where a tick was previously attached). It is important that you contact a vet as soon as possible if you see any potential signs or symptoms of tick paralysis. Ticks can be difficult to find, and without detection of a tick, diagnosis of tick paralysis can be difficult to confirm. 

 

Ticks on Dogs FAQs

Take a look at the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about ticks on dogs:

  • What should I do if my dog has ticks?

If you find ticks on your dog they should be removed as soon as possible and you should contact your veterinarian for advice. 

 

  • Should I take my dog to the vet for a tick?

You should contact your veterinarian for advice. If your dog is living in, or has travelled to, a known paralysis tick region, contact your veterinarian and take your pet to the clinic as soon as possible. If you find a tick and no clinical signs of tick paralysis are observed, it is still recommended to consult your veterinarian as signs of tick paralysis can develop even after the tick has been removed.

 

  • How do you remove a tick from a dog?

Use tweezers or a tick removal tool, like a tick hook, to remove the tick. Grab the tick adjacent to your pet’s skin (at the tick mouthparts), twist the tick, then pluck the tick away from the skin. Take care not to squeeze the tick’s body. 

 

  • How big can ticks get on dogs?

Before feeding, ticks are small and only a few millimeters in size. After attaching and feeding on a dog’s blood, fully engorged ticks can grow to more than 1 cm in size. 

 

  • How do you find ticks on black dogs?

Regardless of the colour of your dog, to find ticks it is recommended to walk your fingers through your dog's coat, feeling the skin surface carefully as you go. Pay particular attention to those hidden or hard to reach areas like under the collar and chin, between the toes, the paws, gum-line, lips, eyes and inside the ears. And don’t forget to feel along their body, making sure to check their belly, and then down their back legs and genital region, as ticks can be found there, as well as on the tail. Consider keeping your dog’s coat shorter in the spring so you can spot ticks more easily.  

 

  • How can you tell if a tick head is still in the dog?

Sometime the mouthparts of the tick are left in the skin after tick removal. This appears like a dark spot in the skin. Don’t attempt to remove this yourself. It is always advisable to speak to your vet, who may ask you to bring your dog to the clinic to be checked-over.

 

  • What happens if the head of the tick stays in the dog?

If the mouthparts of the tick are left in they are unlikely to cause a problem, however you should speak with your veterinarian for advice. Never dig around in the skin in the attempt to remove them yourself. 

 

  • What do I do with my dog’s skin after removal?

After removal of a tick, the skin will usually heal well on its own. You should still contact your veterinarian for advice, especially if you live in a known paralysis tick region, as signs of tick paralysis can develop even after the tick has been removed.

 

  • How do I pull a tick from a dog?

Use tweezers or a tick removal tool, like a tick hook, to remove the tick. Grab the tick adjacent to your pet’s skin (at the tick mouthparts), twist the tick, then pluck the tick away from the skin. Take care not to squeeze the tick’s body. 

 

  • How do I get rid of small ticks on dogs?

Use tweezers or a tick removal tool, like a tick hook, to remove the tick. Grab the tick adjacent to your pet’s skin (at the tick mouthparts), twist the tick, then pluck the tick away from the skin. Take care not to squeeze the tick’s body. 

 

  • How do I remove a large tick from a dog?

Use tweezers or a tick removal tool, like a tick hook, to remove the tick. Grab the tick adjacent to your pet’s skin (at the tick mouthparts), twist the tick, then pluck the tick away from the skin. Take care not to squeeze the tick’s body. 

 

  • How do puppies get ticks?

As with older dogs, puppies can pick up ticks when they are outdoors. Ticks carry out what is called ‘questing behaviour’, crawling up low grass or shrubs and lying in wait. When your puppy brushes past on a walk or while playing outside, the tick uses its front legs to grab on, and then crawl over the skin, through the fur to find a suitable place to attach and feed. 

 

 

Want more information on the treatments available for your dog or puppy? Learn more about NexGard® and NexGard SPECTRA® for protection against ticks and other parasites. 

 

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Disclaimer

All content in this document is the property of Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health Australia Pty. Ltd. and is protected by copyright. You may only use this document for informational, non-commercial, and personal use purposes. You may not modify this document, publish or commercially broadcast it in part or in full (including on a network computer) without our prior written consent. This notice must be retained in all circumstances. Copyright ©2021 Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health Australia Pty. Ltd. ®NEXGARD SPECTRA, NEXGARD, HEARTGARD30 and PARAGARD are registered trademarks of the Boehringer Ingelheim Group. All rights reserved. PET-0102-2019. PET-0123-2021.