Warning: you may start to experience the feeling of something crawling up your leg after reading this blog post! I have declared war on all the creepy crawly, disgusting ticks in our yard! The first week in April and I found a tick on both dogs. It’s not the first time we’ve had to battle with ticks, but it is the first time I am prepared with an armory of natural tick defenses.

Think you and your dog are immune to ticks if you live in the city? Ticks can be an issue anywhere, from the big city to small country villages. Ticks are anywhere there are deer, mice, grass, leaves, or ground cover.

To be prepared for my war on ticks, I needed to know everything there is to know about them. So here are all the important details so you can protect your dog and your family.

tick identification chart
Source: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/tickbornediseases/tickID.html

Let’s begin with some facts that you may not have known about ticks:

Tick Facts and Myths

  • In most cases, it takes 24 to 48 hours after a tick is attached before the bacteria that causes Lyme disease can infect you.
  • Lyme disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) in the northeastern U.S. and upper midwestern U.S. and the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) along the Pacific coast. (Source: CDC)
  • 20% (1 in 5) nymphs and 50% (1 in 2) of adult female ticks carry Lyme disease bacteria.
  • Ticks grow as they feed on blood, increasing more than 10 times in size.
  • On wet clothing in a laundry hamper they might survive 2 or 3 days, or longer if they’ve recently had a blood meal. I’ve kept ticks removed from our dogs inside a sealed water bottle and observed them living for 3 days with no air!
  • Ticks can’t jump. They live in the grass, leaves or ground cover, crawl upward and latch on to dogs and people walking by.
  • Ticks can be found in nearly every part of the world and can survive a wide range of climates.
  • A female tick can lay up to 3,000-20,000 eggs.
  • Ticks only breed while they’re feeding.
  • Ticks have four life stages: egg, larva (infant), nymph (immature) and adult (mature). All stages except the egg need to feed on a host, or else the tick will die. At each stage, most ticks die before they are able to find a host.
  • Mice and other small mammals serve as reservoirs for the disease and spread it. Deer are dilution hosts; they don’t actually get Lyme and don’t spread it.  
  • Human risk of Lyme disease is related more to the abundance of small rodents (mice, chipmunks), acorns (their food resource), and foxes ( their predators) – not deer.  (Ostfeld eet al, 2006
  • Freezing temperatures do not kill ticks, they do go into a feeding hibernation of sorts, but ticks are active anytime temperatures are about 45°.
  • Using a hot needle, match, Vaseline or nail polish can cause the tick to “vomit” into the dog and pose a higher risk of transmitting disease.
  • Many flea and tick medications contain pesticides that can cause severe reactions including seizures. Read WARNING! The Hidden Dangers of Flea and Tick Medications
Dog walking in woods and Ticks

Symptoms and Signs Your Dog Has a Tick

Here are some common symptoms and signs that may indicate your dog has a tick:

  1. Visible ticks: The most obvious sign is the presence of ticks on your dog’s body. Ticks are often visible as small, dark, or reddish-brown parasites attached to the skin. They can be found anywhere on the dog’s body, but they tend to favor areas with less hair, such as the head, ears, neck, armpits, and groin.
  2. Excessive scratching or licking: If your dog is constantly scratching, licking, or biting a specific area, it could be a sign of tick infestation. Ticks can cause irritation and itchiness, leading to these behaviors.
  3. Skin irritation or inflammation: Tick bites can cause local skin reactions in dogs. Look for redness, swelling, or inflammation around the tick bite site. In some cases, there may be a rash or a small scab where the tick has fed.
  4. Restlessness or discomfort: Dogs with ticks may exhibit signs of restlessness or general discomfort. They may be unable to settle down and might pace, whimper, or display signs of agitation.
  5. Fever or lethargy: Tick-borne diseases can cause fever and general malaise in dogs. If your dog has been bitten by a tick and subsequently develops a fever or becomes lethargic, it could be a sign of an infection transmitted by the tick.
  6. Loss of appetite: Tick infestations, particularly if accompanied by disease transmission, can lead to a loss of appetite in dogs. If your dog suddenly shows a decreased interest in food, it is worth considering the possibility of tick-related issues.
  7. Swollen joints or lameness: In some cases, ticks can transmit diseases like Lyme disease, which can lead to joint inflammation and lameness in dogs. If your dog develops sudden lameness, particularly in multiple joints, it’s important to have them evaluated by a veterinarian.

If you notice any of these symptoms or suspect your dog has a tick, it’s crucial to take action promptly. Monitor your dog for any signs of tick-borne illnesses and seek veterinary care if necessary.

What Should I Do If My Dog Has a Tick on Him?

Don’t panic if you find a tick on your dog. If the tick is already attached/engorged, then you will need a pair of tweezers or a tick removal tool. If it’s not attached/engorged, then grab a tissue and remove the tick, then flush down the toilet or place it inside a baggy with rubbing alcohol.

Do not throw it in the trash, it will crawl out. The rubbing alcohol will kill the tick and preserve it if you need to take it in to be tested.

Do NOT use a hot needle, Vaseline, dish soap or nail polish. These can cause the tick to regurgitate into your dog and increase the risk of disease.

When you find the tick, try to keep track of where you find it. If you have someone else at home, ask them to fetch the tick removal tool so you don’t lose its place. If you are alone, make a mental note of its placement and quickly find your tweezers or tick removal tool.

Remove the tick using the steps below:

How To Remove A Tick From A Dog

  1. Spread your dog’s hair so you have clear access to the tick.
  2. Place the tweezers or tick removal tool around the tick’s head, as close to the skin as possible. Pointy-style tweezers work better than wide-edged tweezers.
  3. Slowly pull upward with steady hands, adding pressure until the tick lets you pull it away from the skin.
  4. Don’t twist or squish the tick. Don’t burn the tick or use Vaseline. These can cause the tick to regurgitate and pose a higher risk of infecting your dog with Lyme or other diseases.
  5. Dispose of the tick by killing it in alcohol or flushing it down the toilet. Do not toss in the trash, it can easily crawl out and find its way back on you or your dog.
  6. Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, peroxide, or a natural wound ointment.
  7. It is normal for there to be a red area or scab where the tick was. Keep an eye on it and continue to clean the area until it heals.
  8. If you’re concerned your dog may have contracted tick disease, save the tick in alcohol for testing.
  9. Do NOT worry if you didn’t get the mouth or head of the tick. A tick cannot survive once torn into two, and the mouthpart will eventually fall out.

Using the Tick Key to Remove a Tick

I bought a few of the Tick Keys to have handy when I find our next tick. I keep one on my key chain so I always have one with me. The others are scattered around the house so they are easy to find.

We’ve had to use the Tick Keys several times and it makes removing the ticks much easier than with tweezers.

Tick Key instructions according to the package:

  • Place the key over the tick in the teardrop hole.
  • Slide the tick key flush against the skin to entrap the tick in the tapered slot.
  • Do NOT lift the tick key. Continue pulling quickly in the same direction for proper removal.
  • Disinfect the tick key with alcohol after each use.
  • Thoroughly was bite area and your hands.

What Diseases Can Ticks Transmit?

Different species of ticks carry different diseases. It’s important to know the types of ticks in your area. The CDC website is a great resource to learn more about ticks and the diseases they carry. Below is a list of diseases carried by different species of ticks:

BLACKLEGGED TICK

  • Borrelia burgdorferi and B. mayonii (which cause Lyme disease)
  • Anaplasma phagocytophilum (anaplasmosis)
  • B. miyamotoi disease (a form of relapsing fever)
  • Ehrlichia muris eauclairensis (ehrlichiosis)
  • Babesia microti (babesiosis),
  • Powassan virus (Powassan virus disease)

LONE STAR TICK

  • Ehrlichia chaffeensis and E. ewingii (which cause human ehrlichiosis)
  • Francisella tularensis (tularemia)
  • Heartland virus (Heartland virus disease)
  • Bourbon virus (Bourbon virus disease)
  • Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI)

AMERICAN DOG TICK 

  • Francisella tularensis (tularemia)
  • Rickettsia rickettsii (Rocky Mountain spotted fever)

BROWN DOG TICK

  • Rickettsia rickettsii (Rocky Mountain spotted fever)
  • Primary vector for R. rickettsii transmission in the southwestern United States and along the U.S.-Mexico border

GROUNDHOG TICK

  • Powassan virus (Powassan virus disease)

GULF COAST TICK 

  • R. parkeri (R. parkeri rickettsiosis), a form of spotted fever

ROCKY MOUNTAIN WOOD TICK

  • Rickettsia rickettsii (Rocky Mountain spotted fever)
  • Colorado tick fever virus (Colorado tick fever)
  • Francisella tularensis (tularemia)

SOFT TICK

  • Borrelia hermsii, B. turicatae (tick-borne relapsing fever [TBRF])

WESTERN BLACKLEGGED TICK

  • Anaplasma phagocytophilum (anaplasmosis)
  • B. burgdorferi (Lyme disease)
  • B. miyamotoi (Borrelia miyamotoi disease, a form of relapsing fever)

Source: CDC

What is Tick Paralysis?

Tick paralysis is a rare condition caused by the toxin secreted by certain species of ticks. It primarily affects animals, including humans, and is characterized by progressive paralysis that typically begins in the legs and moves upward. Here are some key points about tick paralysis

  1. Cause: Tick paralysis is caused by neurotoxins present in the saliva of certain female ticks. The toxin is transmitted to the host during the tick’s feeding process. The American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) and the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni) are known to cause tick paralysis in North America, while other tick species can cause it in different regions.
  2. Symptoms: The onset of tick paralysis usually occurs several days after the tick’s attachment, but the time can vary. Initial symptoms may include weakness and numbness in the legs, followed by muscle weakness, fatigue, unsteady gait, and difficulty speaking or swallowing. If left untreated, the paralysis can progress to the respiratory muscles, potentially causing respiratory distress or failure.
  3. Diagnosis: Tick paralysis is primarily diagnosed based on the presence of a tick on the affected individual and the progression of symptoms after its removal. Other potential causes of paralysis or neurological conditions should be ruled out through physical examination, medical history, and possibly additional tests.
  4. Treatment: The primary treatment for tick paralysis is the removal of the tick. Once the tick is removed, the symptoms usually begin to resolve within hours or days. Supportive care may be required to manage symptoms and prevent complications. In severe cases or when respiratory muscles are affected, hospitalization and respiratory support may be necessary.

Tick paralysis is relatively rare, and most tick bites do not result in paralysis. However, it is essential to be aware of the symptoms and seek medical attention if you suspect tick paralysis or have concerns about a tick bite. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are crucial for a full recovery.

Holistic or Chemical Flea and Tick Preventions?

The diseases that ticks transmit can be serious. I want to protect my dogs from ticks the best I can. But honestly, I have a hard time putting pesticides on my dogs.

Up until about 5 or so years ago, I used Frontline or K9Advantix, which our vet recommended. That is until I learned the truth about these chemicals. I am now determined to use only natural options for my dogs.

After a lot of research, I found that Only Natural Pet has the largest selection of safe flea and tick control products that actually work.

It is recommended to layer the natural tick control options, so we have been using the tick tag, along with flea/tick shampoo, spray, and brewer’s yeast/garlic tabs for our dogs.

And while these haven’t proven to be 100% effective, neither were Frontline or K9Advantix. And I feel better about not exposing my dogs to the nasty chemicals. Do what is best for you and your dog.

>> Read more about Natural flea and tick remedies. 

It’s Your Turn

I want to hear your story. Please leave a comment below, it could help someone else in our community struggling with ticks. How do you protect you and your dog? Have you had a battle with ticks?

And if you just haven’t had enough info about ticks. Check this website: TickEncounter.com.

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About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

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