If your dog spends a lot of time outside, tick checks should be part of your daily routine. In many areas of the United States, ticks are active year-round, even after a killing frost. Here’s how to spot a tick—and what to do if one has grabbed hold of your pet.
Step 1: Scan for ticks
Start by running your fingers slowly over your dog's entire body. If you feel a bump or swollen area, check to see if a tick has burrowed there. Don't limit your search to your dog's torso. Check between their toes, around their legs, the insides of their ears and all around their face, chin and neck.
Step 2: Is it a tick?
Ticks can be black, brown or tan and they have eight legs. They can also be tiny; some species are only as large as the head of a pin.
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How to prevent tick-borne diseases
Tick-borne illnesses can be difficult to diagnose and treat, so preventing ticks from biting your pet in the first place is crucial.
- Use a preventative regularly—and not just in the warm months. Tick bites can happen any time of year, so it’s best to use a preventative year-round.
- Choose a product compatible with your pet’s lifestyle. For example, a topical product might not be a good option for a dog who swims regularly.
- Only use products that are appropriate for your pet. Don’t use a dog product on a cat or vice versa.
- Don’t assume your flea protection covers ticks, too—check the label.
- Follow frequency and application directions carefully.
- Don’t assume you’re not at risk if you live in an urban area—ticks can be present nearly anytime, anywhere.
- Ask your veterinarian about the Lyme disease vaccine.
- Keep your cat indoors.
- Regularly check your dog for ticks, especially after playing in grassy areas or hiking in the woods.
- Try using a lint roller immediately after coming inside—you might catch ticks that haven’t yet bitten your pet.
- If you find a tick, remove it promptly: It takes 24 to 48 hours for an attached tick to transmit an infection to its host.
What are symptoms of tick-borne diseases?
Unlike people, pets don’t develop a telltale bull’s-eye rash at the site of a tick bite. Symptoms of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses may not show up until weeks or months after a bite, and they are often vague, making them difficult and time-consuming to diagnose.
Talk with your veterinarian if you notice any of the following:
- Joint pain or swollen joints
- Skin rash
- Weight loss
- Decreased appetite or thirst
- Inflammation at or near a bite mark
- Neurological problems