Poppy the beagle, Good Doggy Guide
A curious but calm Poppy the beagle, out on a walk. Photo by Good Doggy Guide

Tick season is upon us!

Yesterday, Poppy got her first tick of the year. And so, I thought it was probably worth writing a post about dogs and ticks.

Many of you who haven’t had your dogs or puppies for long, will probably be thinking that this doesn’t really affect you. But, ticks are something that I think all dog owners should be aware of. Ticks just love our pooches!

So, before you ask, we do use Frontline’s flea and tick treatment on Poppy. From the spring until the end of autumn anyway, which is when the ticks around here seem to be most prevalent. But, from personal experience, I don’t think this is a replacement for checking your dog over. And here’s why.

Why should you check your dog for ticks?

The short answer is to keep you and your beloved dog safe. Ticks can carry Lyme disease and bites can become infected. Lyme disease can affect both humans and animals, and can cause quite serious health problems. The longer the tick is on you or your pooch, the more likely it is to pass on disease or infection.

Ticks do drop off eventually, and some treatments should kill them as they feed (or repel them). But, if you’re not checking for them, how do you know it’s working? I’m not convinced you can know. And you may miss an infected bite. Plus, I think it’s best to check the tick is dead. Basically, it’s peace of mind.

Of course, if you’ve been to an area where there may be ticks, it’s worth checking yourself too! I wear walking trousers much of the time. They have handy drawstrings on the leg bottoms, which reduces the chance of picking them up – but I’ve still managed to get one!

How to spot a tick on your dog

Ticks can be difficult to spot, especially in fur. And ticks know how to hide themselves! We found Poppy’s under her chin near her collar. That’s how we missed it, initially. It must have crawled under her collar. Pesky pest! We’ve learnt our lesson though and have now started to take her collar off after a walk so we can check thoroughly.

We do a visual check over and then run our hands over her coat. Feel for a bump or little lump. If you think you’ve found one, gently part the fur to see if you can spot it. Ticks freak me out, I’ll be honest, but it’s important not to panic or simply try to pull it off. Of course, you may find a bump left by a bite too.

How to remove a tick from a dog

First and foremost, don’t simply try to pull it off. The tick has attached itself to feed and if you pull at it you will most liekly pull the body off and leave the head on your dog’s skin. Eww!

Tick found on Poppy the dog
The tick we removed from underneath Poppy’s chin and the tweezers (on a suitably macabre coaster).

The great news is, there are special tick removal devices you can use. These are usually tweezers but they’re designed to make it easier to remove a tick safely (head and all). Many websites will tell you how to remove a tick, but there are different products that are used in slightly different ways, so it’s best to check the instructions that come with your removal tool. Some involve twisting, others simply hook underneath the tick.

Once you’ve managed to remove the tick, you need to make sure it doesn’t do any more harm. Avoid touching it, but you will need to dispose of it safely. That’s why some sites recommend sealing it in Sellotape or crushing it and flushing it down the toilet (that’s our preferred method). You may want to clean the bite area. And remember to clean your tick remover too! We give ours a clean over with an alcohol wipe.

And if you get a tick bite?

If you, rather than your dog, gets a tick bite I would recommend the same steps but do check for a raised target-shaped rash appearing around the wound. If this appears (and it could be weeks later) do go to your GP asap. And explain that you’ve either been to an area with ticks or that you’ve seen the tick. Not all GPs seem that clued in about the prevalence of ticks, so it’s worth being very clear about it. There is a Lyme disease test (I know because I’ve had one) and if you do have Lyme disease it’s important to get antibiotics early on.

This may sound scary, but although ticks are common in certain areas, not all bites will lead to infections. I just think it’s good to be aware and know what to look out for.

Are ticks common in the UK?

Ticks are common in many places, but in the UK there seems to be an annoying lack of data or research on these little bloodsuckers! According to the government website there’s roughly 2,000 to 3,000 cases of Lyme disease a year (in humans, obviously) and that about 10% of ticks are carriers. But it’s all a bit vague.

However, I’ve picked up several ticks whilst living in the Lake District and Poppy has had so many now, we’ve lost count. So that’s why I’m writing this. Ticks on dogs are pretty common in the countryside.

On one walk she picked up about 14. There was a lot of bracken to walk through and it wasn’t a well-used footpath, so I think that contributed to the plethora of critters! We were constantly stopping and flicking them off before they could latch on, but one still got her anyway. Now, you might be thinking “oh but you’re in a place where there’s loads of sheep”. And I’m going to have to say that this is a bit of a myth. Ticks aren’t just carried by sheep. And there were none nearby on our walk.

Where do you find ticks?

Ticks thrive in warm and damp areas, so yes there’s a lot here in the Lake District. But it’s not just because of our sheep population. Ticks love any large-ish animal that brushes through the grass, bracken, woodland etc. So, deer, badgers, birds, foxes, hedgehogs and of course, dogs can all carry them. I should point out, this isn’t just my opinion, but the information I gained from ESCCAP. If you’re squeamish, I wouldn’t recommend having a read though!

So, where can you find or pick up ticks in the UK? Forests and woods, fields and meadows, parks and gardens – these are all places where they could be lurking. I think because we live in a fairly rural location, we have noticed more of a problem. But I know that friends who’ve been to places like Devon and Somerset for walks have also picked them up. They are present throughout the UK. It’s not just the Lakes!

Holidaying with your dog

I think as many of us are taking our holidays in the UK this year, it’s worth raising a bit of awareness now. It’s not something I would have even thought of before moving here. But it’s constantly in our minds now we have Poppy.

And after seeing a dog owner struggling with a pair of eyebrow tweezers outside a pharmacy a few years ago, I think it’s something we should all be thinking about and being prepared for.

If you’re going on holiday to a scenic or rural location, then I’d definitely recommend getting some protection from something such as Frontline. Don’t worry, this isn’t an ad. It’s just what we use at the moment and your vet or pet store should be able to advise you on different treatments you can use.

But also, I would carry some tick tweezers. This will make things so much easier if you do find a tick. Honestly, I don’t know where we’d be without them. And routinely checking your pet over after walks in long grass or woodland, is of course my recommendation.