After coming back from a run in the park with your dog, you see a dark lump on its paw.
That definitely wasn’t there before. Is that a leaf, or a piece of gravel?
Alarmed, you move closer to examine the bump- only to discover that it seems to be moving!
“My dog has something that looks like a tick…”, you think to yourself. However, you’re not entirely sure, seeing as you’ve never encountered one before.
Ticks appear year-round in a variety of environments, but in particular you’ll find them in forests, grasslands and locations where wildlife is abundant.
It is always important to regularly scan your dog’s body for these parasites when grooming by running your fingers closely over their fur. Don’t forget to look closely in the crevices, such as under the armpits and between paw pads!
As scary as ticks might be, spotting them early and removing ticks immediately will greatly reduce the risk of any negative consequences that can occur due to bites.
- What Does It Look Like When A Dog Has A Tick?
- Is A Tick On A Dog Dangerous?
- Can A Tick Make A Dog Sick?
- What Do I Do If A Tick Is Embedded In My Dog?
- How To Tell How Long A Tick Has Been Attached To A Dog
- Should I Take My Dog To The Vet For A Tick?
- What Repels Ticks Naturally On Dogs?
- In Conclusion
What Does It Look Like When A Dog Has A Tick?
It can be difficult to spot ticks at a glance. If they are there, ticks are usually well-hidden within your dog’s hair. Most of the time, dog owners will become aware of the irregular lumps only upon closer inspection of their pup.
Ticks can be more difficult to identify in dogs with darker and longer hair. This means grooming is often required before ticks become more noticeable. While they do prefer hairless spots, they can also often be found lurking within the hair itself.
The parasitic insects can be found all over a dog’s body and will feel like a bump on the skin. As such, they can be easily confused with skin lumps or cysts.
However, unlike the previous two, ticks will move around to find the best place to feed and then embed itself firmly into your dog’s skin.
A magnifying glass is an effective tool in identifying ticks as you will then be able to spot their legs and movement.
When there is a tick on your dog, dogs may show signs of irritation and scratch or bite at certain areas of their skin. Generally however dogs do not show any signs of a tick until they develop an allergic reaction, or display symptoms of tick-borne diseases.
When a dog has a tick, it can be identified by these characteristics:
- Small, round, hard bump around 1mm or 1cm in size
- Typically dark brown or black
- May have 6 or 8 legs depending on stage in life. More mature ticks have 8 legs whilst lymph and larvae ticks have 6 legs
- Often found near the neck, head, ears, or creases under the legs
- Can be significantly engorged as it fills with blood.
Although ticks and growths can appear similarly as elevated bumps that become bigger over time, there are of course some key differences between a tick and a growth on a dog.
The primary differences include color, legs and movement which can be easily spotted if a magnifying glass is used to observe the foreign spot.
Color- Growths will typically be the same color as a dog’s skin tone, while ticks typically are darker-colored.
Legs and Movement- Only ticks will have legs (duh) and a body that moves around, especially when it has been slightly touched.
If you really are having a lot of trouble telling the difference (for example if growth is dark and not moving), consult with a vet to ensure the bump is not an irregular growth.
Common differences between skin tags and ticks include color, presence of legs, movement, growth and texture. The easiest way to distinguish between a tick and a skin tag is by using a magnifying glass to spot legs or movement.
Color– Skin tags are the same color as your dog’s skin. Ticks are generally dark brown or grey.
Legs– Only ticks will have legs (duh again). Immature ticks including larvae and nymphs have six legs, while mature ticks will have eight legs.
Growth– Skin tags remain thin and flat and usually grow out from a dog’s skin. Ticks will initially be brown and flat with an oval body, but it will grow in size and become more rounded over several days as it feeds on its victim’s blood.
Movement– Ticks will show slight movement if touched, while skin tags will remain stationary.
Texture– Skin tags are soft and feel like living skin. Most ticks found on dogs feel hard and smooth.
Again, if it is still too difficult to distinguish between a potential tick or skin tag, consult a vet for professional identification.
No, your dog is unlikely to realize that they have a tick on their body.
Tick bites generally do not irritate dogs, though some dogs may develop redness and skin inflammation due to the bite. This may cause them to scratch, though your dog will still not know what caused it.
The dog may show signs of tick bites by licking or chewing the skin where the tick is embedded. Ticks that are inside or around the ear can also cause vigorous head-shaking to occur.
Generally speaking, ticks are not dangerous to dogs as once they have finished feeding they usually hop right off to digest their meal. They may leave behind scabs or irritated and inflamed skin.
Ticks are only dangerous when they transmit diseases by releasing saliva into the dog’s blood, though again these instances are usually rare.
However, as soon as you notice your dog behaving differently, such as showing a loss of appetite or changes in physical condition, immediately contact your vet for assistance.
Regardless of how dangerous ticks are, it is very important to remove any ticks with a tick removal tool as soon as you spot them on your dog.
When a tick finds its way onto a dog, it will try to move itself to a good area such as the neck or feet to latch onto. It will then open a wound, attach itself firmly, and feed on its victim’s blood. It will stay there for several days before dropping off when it is finally engorged.
Normally nothing serious will happen to the dog, though sometimes scabs or inflamed skin can result. Very rarely, skin infections can develop and certain diseases can also be transmitted from the tick to the dog.
Common North American ticks such as American dog ticks, deer ticks, brown dog ticks and lone star ticks can pass on transmittable diseases- though it can take several days to several weeks before symptoms appear.
Initial signs of potential disease transmission include lethargy, vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss and nasal or eye discharge.
In addition to the 5 relatively common diseases that are discussed below, other less common illnesses include Canine Bartonella and Canine Hepatozoonosis.
Lyme Borreliosis is a severe, painful bacterial infection, but luckily it is rarely fatal.
It can take several months before symptoms appear, and they can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes and swollen joints.
After a vet examination involving procedures such as blood testing, antibiotics such as doxycycline are often prescribed as they are necessary for long-term recovery. Once treated, your dog should begin feeling better within 5 days.
In severe cases where kidney failure occurs, hospitalization will be required and recovery will take longer.
Canine Babesiosis is a disease usually transmitted by deer ticks that has the ability to destroy red blood cells. It can be a difficult condition to treat due to the blood loss and potential shock that may occur.
The incubation period of Babesiosis is roughly 2 weeks, though diagnosis may not occur until several months or even years later.
Symptoms include depression, lethargy, pale gums, fever, swollen abdomen, skin discoloration and loss of appetite. Severe cases of canine babesiosis can cause anemia.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is an illness that can be fatal if your dog is not treated promptly with antibiotics. It is usually transmitted by American dog ticks, rocky mountain wood ticks and brown dog ticks.
Symptoms can begin to show within 2 weeks and can include fever, lethargy, stomach pain, loss of appetite, skin lesions, swollen joints, swollen legs and vomiting.
In severe cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, kidney failure and seizures can develop.
Canine Ehrlichiosis is a condition often transmitted by brown dog ticks or lone star ticks. It is caused by rickettsial organisms, and the disease is particularly severe in certain breeds such as the German Shepherd and Doberman.
Ehrlichiosis can usually be categorized into three different stages: acute, sub-clinical, and chronic.
Signs of canine ehrlichiosis in the acute phase include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, joint pain and stiffness, swollen lymph nodes and abnormal bruising and bleeding.
If the condition is allowed to become chronic, it will bring on severe symptoms such as anemia, bleeding, eye inflammation and fluid accumulation in the hind legs. Although rare, tick paralysis may occur.
Finally, canine anaplasmosis is another bacterial infection that can be caused by deer ticks. Symptoms generally develop around 7 days after being bit.
Symptoms of anaplasmosis include joint pain, lethargy, fever, loss of appetite. In severe cases, the condition can cause bleeding disorders, seizures and kidney disease.
Treatment also consists of the antibiotic doxycycline, and recovery is rapid once it is administered.
The appearance of tick bite symptoms can range from several hours to days- or even weeks!
Generic tick bite symptoms such as local swelling, redness and skin inflammation can appear within 2 days. These conditions can be quickly treated with the appropriate medication.
However, in the case of tick-borne diseases transmitted from tick bites, symptoms can develop anywhere from two weeks to two months following the bite. It will ultimately depend on the disease transmitted and your dog’s general health and wellbeing.
Tick-borne diseases begin transmitting after 12 hours of the initial bite, and are fully passed into the bloodstream in around 48 hours. Early removal of the tick reduces the chance of your dog becoming a victim to diseases.
As soon as you discover any ticks on your dog, immediately remove them before they get the chance to transmit any diseases it might be carrying. Removing ticks early will also help to prevent any reactive skin conditions from developing.
If one tick is found, it is important to proactively look in other areas of your dog’s body to look for any other potential ticks.
To remove embedded ticks, you will need equipment such as:
- Tweezers or other tick removal tools
- Antiseptic ointment
- Isopropyl alcohol.
Firstly, place the tweezers as close to the skin as possible and remove the tick slowly by pulling it out in the same direction it went in.
After pulling out the tick, place it inside a bag or container with isopropyl alcohol to kill it and label the bag with the date you found the tick.
Wash your hands and clean the bite wound with antiseptic ointments.
Here is a helpful video to show you exactly how to remove a tick from your dog’s body:
If you feel uncomfortable removing the embedded tick or do not know what to do, contact your vet as they will be able to help you with the procedure and advise you on the proper next steps to take.
If a tick is not removed manually, it will fall off by itself within 2 weeks after filling its body with blood.
In most cases, nothing dangerous will really happen to your dog. However, scarring or a bald spot can develop at the bite site within a week if the tick is not removed.
Sometimes, dogs can develop a reaction to ticks which can be observed as redness and skin inflammation. This can be irritating and cause dogs to continuously scratch and bite at the affected area.
In rare cases, dangerous conditions can develop, such as anemia amongst smaller dogs. There is also a higher chance for tick-borne diseases to be transmitted, which can affect the brain, appetite and general health.
If parts of ticks are not removed and left embedded in the body, eventually it will be pushed out naturally. However, it is possible for the remaining pieces to induce the formation of either a small abscess or inflammatory granuloma.
If the tick on your dog is moving freely, comb it out and apply tick removal ointments, collars or sprays. Regular grooming and application of tick preventatives will allow you to see improvements within a few days or weeks.
It is not recommended to kill an engorged tick on your dog. Carelessly removing the tick or applying tick-free solutions directly can agitate it.
An agitated tick can either regurgitate more saliva- heightening the risk of tick-borne diseases-, or embed itself even more firmly into the dog’s skin.
If the tick is engorged, you should remove the tick manually first with gloves and specific tick removal tools such as tweezers. Try your best not to directly touch the tick with your hands as this can put you in contact with transmittable diseases.
When trying to remove an embedded tick, you should not burn the tick or cover it with lotion, moisturizer, nail polish or petroleum jelly. Also do not squish the tick- as tempting as it might be to immediately get rid of this parasite!
Finally, it is not recommended to flush the tick down the toilet once removed as it can survive and find its way onto another victim. Instead, place it on a container filled with isopropyl alcohol to kill it effectively.
It can be relatively easy to estimate how long a tick has been attached to any dog by observing the size of the tick’s body.
Ticks with a smaller body and that are moving around freely will have landed on your dog within the last hour or so.
An embedded tick with a small body hanging out of a dog’s skin most likely has been attached for only a few hours.
Engorged ticks feed for up to 2 weeks, so the larger the body the longer a tick has been attached to the dog. Ticks typically grow from the size to a pinhead to a pea.
Other indicators of how long a tick has been attached involves looking at the surrounding skin for redness and irritation. Skin irritation can be caused by a physiological reaction to the tick, or from the dog scratching or biting the area.
You generally do not need to take your dog to the vet for a tick. However, if you feel uncomfortable removing the tick it would be a good idea to take your pup to the vet for the procedure.
If you are unable to fully remove the tick and have left mouth pieces inside the skin, contact your vet as this can result in an infection at the wound site. However, more often than not, the remaining pieces should come out on their own.
If the tick is found in an enclosed area such as the ear canal, the best course of action may be to consult a vet for help as it can be difficult to remove ticks from these narrow spaces without hurting your dog.
In the case that your dog begins to develop irregular behavior, an abnormal appetite or physical changes after you find a tick and remove it, you should immediately take it to the vet as this could signify the presence of a tick-borne disease.
Symptoms of diseases may not appear for several weeks, so it is important you keep an eye on your dog for the coming days and weeks.
Other than medicated products often used as tick repellents such as Frontline and Seresto, certain natural products can also be effective in preventing ticks from latching onto your pet’s skin.
The following can be good alternatives when commercial repellents such as Frontline do not work.
Diatomaceous earth is a non-toxic, natural white powder made of the mineral silica. Sprinkling this product over your dog’s skin when it is dry has been suggested to be able to repel ticks.
Diatomaceous earth is suggested to also be able to dehydrate and shrink the pores on the tick’s outer shell, suffocating and killing them.
It is recommended to continuously apply this product over several days to completely repel ticks and remove any ticks remaining on your dog.
Citrus foods such as lemon, orange or grapefruit are suggested to be able to repel ticks due to either the acidity or the smell.
Boil the citrus juice in water, then spray it directly onto the fur once it has cooled.
Using essential oils can be an effective method to repel ticks. However, it is recommended to dilute the oil first with water or carrier oils such as coconut oil or olive oil. These can be added to sprays or shampoos and applied to your dog’s body.
Potential essential oils to use include:
- Lemon Eucalyptus
- Rose Geranium
Although these natural methods can be effective in repelling ticks, it is recommended to ask your vet first prior to application and for their advice and the appropriate dosage.
Ticks can appear on your dog as elevated lumps or bumps, ranging in size from as small as a pinhead to the surface area of a pea. While ticks generally have darker coating, you will be able to confirm its identity by spotting its legs and movement.
Using a magnifying glass is an effective way of distinguishing if it is a tick rather than a growth or skin tag.
If any ticks are spotted, always remove them first before killing it. Delaying the removal of ticks increases the risk of an allergic reaction, as well as the likelihood of tick-borne disease transmission.
It is important to regularly check your dog for any abnormal bumps and skin irritation. Changes in appetite, irregular behavior or deterioration of general health can be indications of an adverse reaction to tick bites on your dog.
In these cases, it is very important to take your dog to the vet immediately for treatment, which will most likely involve the use of antibiotics.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.