It's Tick Season! Keep your dog tick-free with this complete tick Q&A

dog in tall grass

This dog isn't the only thing hiding in this tall grass... Ticks, anyone?

We’ve sprung into spring, and that means it’s the start of flea and tick season all around the country, to the dread of many a dog owner. We’ve researched the most common questions and veterinarian-approved answers on ticks, to ensure you’re well prepared to prevent, spot, and remove any encounter of the icky-ticky kind!

What’s the most common way a dog can pick up a tick?

Dogs generally get ticks from walking through an environment with high grass, shrubs or woods, about 18-24 inches off the ground, where ticks basically just hang out, ready to jump onto the next warm body that brushes up against it. Ticks are patient survivalists: they can live well over a year without feeding, so they can lie and wait… and wait… until the next dog/coyote/raccoon/cat or human walks by after which they dislodge from the plant material they’re hanging out on, and climb onto us: their food source.

What do ticks look like?

Ticks are larger than fleas and can vary in color from an olive green to a dark brown or black. One relatively nice thing about ticks, in comparison to fleas, is that they don’t infest dogs and households the way fleas do, but individually attach and burrow into the skin. If you really want to see what a tick looks like, or need more convincing as to why you DON’T want your dog to have a tick infestation, simply google “images of ticks on dogs” and prepare yourself for a creepy-crawly ick fest.

What is the best way to check for ticks on my dog?

Check for ticks by running your hands carefully over your dog and keeping your eye out for anything that looks like a tick! Also make sure to note any strange bumps under the fur. Gently part the fur over the bump and look for the tick attached to the skin. Don’t forget to check between the toes, behind and in the ears, in the armpits and around the base of the tail. Depending on how “established” the tick is will determine whether or not you’ll attempt to remove it yourself or take the dog right to the vet.

What kinds of illnesses can a dog get from ticks?

Ticks carry a dozen to 15 or more tick-transmitted diseases, many of which can seriously harm or even kill pets. Two of the most commonly known diseases are Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, although there are many more. Because tick-transmitted diseases can be so dangerous, it’s critical to be aware of the area that you’re living in, what kinds of ticks live in your area, what the tick season is, and generally, to inspect your dog (and yourself!) thoroughly after every walk, romp, or hike outdoors, especially if it’s through tall grasses or the woods.

Where are ticks found? Are the tick infestations worse in some areas than others?

Yes, absolutely: certain areas of the United States have more tick problems than others, and it’s also seasonally dependent, based on how cold the previous winter was. The upper Midwest and the Northeast, from Pennsylvania north, have a very serious Lyme disease tick problem. And the south central part of the United States is also known for having a horrible tick problem. Unfortunately, there are very few places in North America that are entirely free of ticks, because there are so many different kinds of ticks. The good news about this is that if you are more cautious than cavalier, you can incorporate precautionary measures and post-walk checks into your daily habit.

Is summer the only season I need to worry about ticks?

Not really. The best thing to do, regardless of where you live, is consult your veterinarian about this question as well as others including what ticks are most common to your region, what kinds of diseases they carry, and what their vegetation habitat is in your area. Many of the diseases that ticks carry are local: what one vet will warn against in Connecticut has no relevance for someone living in Utah. In addition, with respect to the seasonality of ticks, there are so many different tick species and the months are staying warmer much longer in most of the country now. Only in the most northern states and Canada, where the winters are extremely long and extremely cold, can you be assured that ticks have a shorter, rather than longer season.

Is there any medication or topical application that is effective against ticks?

Yes, there are many preventative applications on the market including flea and tick collars, topical applications and even medications that can be taken internally. The best thing to do is to consult your veterinarian for the most optimum choice for your dog.

How else can I prevent my dog from getting a tick?

  • There are many ways to prevent your dog from getting fleas and ticks, from natural remedies (detailed in our blog post on this topic) including certain essential oils and nutritional additives to topically-applied solutions, and even prescription pills that prevent and also kill any parasitic activity. Check with your veterinarian for the preventative that makes the most sense for your pet.
  • But the best way to prevent fleas and ticks is to keep your pet healthy! Fleas and ticks are far more likely to attach to animals with poorly maintained coats and dirty, matted fur and also animals with weak immune systems.
  • Bathing your dog and cat regularly with a good, natural shampoo is also a first line of defense against fleas and ticks. earthbath’s Orange Peel Oil Shampoo is great for parasite prevention due to its concentrated citrus oil. Orange Peel Oil is the natural oil rendered from oranges, and is also called d-Limonene. d-Limonene is registered with the Federal Environmental Protection Agency as an insecticide and is a natural but very effective method to preventing and killing fleas.
  • Also: clean up your yard! Keep the long grass, weeds, and brush in your yard to a minimum. Cut the tall grass, trim back the bushes and shrubs, then rake up all the leaf litter under the bushes. Consider that fleas and ticks are sensitive to sunlight and humidity. They both thrive in shady, cool, protected habitats under shrubs, under bushes, and under porches.
  • When out for walks, don’t go “off trail” and when you let your dog off-leash, make sure that it’s in a clear area free of tall brushes and grasses.

What’s the best way to remove a tick from my dog?

In all honesty, it’s best to go right to your vet to remove ticks unless you have a lot of experience removing ticks and feel confident in disposing of them safely.

But if getting to a veterinarian quickly isn’t a reasonable option, to remove an attached tick from your pet, start with a pair of fine-tipped tweezers.

  1. Grab the tick by the head or mouth parts right where they enter the skin. Do not grasp the tick by the body. Make sure you don’t crush the tick, which can force harmful bacteria to leave the tick and enter your pet’s bloodstream.
  2. Without jerking, pull firmly and steadily directly outward. Do not twist the tick as you are pulling.
  3. Using methods such as applying petroleum jelly, a hot match, or alcohol will NOT cause the tick to ‘back out.’ In fact, these irritants may cause the tick to deposit more disease-carrying saliva in the wound.
  4. After removing the tick, place it in a jar of alcohol to kill it. Ticks are NOT killed by flushing them down the toilet.
  5. Clean the bite wound with a disinfectant. If you want to, apply a small amount of a triple antibiotic ointment.
  6. Wash your hands thoroughly.

Under no circumstances should you use your fingers to remove or dispose of the tick. Definitely DO NOT squash the tick with your fingers: This is a sure way to transmit the disease you were trying to prevent by removing the tick!

If you have any doubts about removing the tick yourself, or are concerned about any possible aftereffects, see your veterinarian first.

When should I NOT attempt to remove a tick?

If you’ve caught the tick before it has had a chance to attach, it’s simply a matter of easily removing it and dumping it in a jar of alcohol to kill it. If it’s just started to attach itself, you can typically remove it quite easily with a pair of tweezers and a firm hand using the method described above. But if a tick has burrowed into the skin, it will create a bump: if it’s well-established, this bump can grow to the size of a grape (!), in which case a veterinarian’s expertise is needed, without a doubt.