Ticks and lyme disease: what you need to know

You might have seen posters around your vets practice or at your local park signalling that tick season is upon us. Adult ticks live all year round, and whilst they can thrive in the cold, winter weather, they are mostly active from spring to autumn, which is also around the time we find ourselves taking longer and most frequent walks with our dogs to make the most of better weather. 

Increasingly in the UK, we’re being made aware of tick borne disease and the importance of protecting our dogs against them. This is because a tick bite can have a devastating impact on our pooches thanks to the disease that some ticks carry and can transmit – Lyme disease. 

You might already be familiar with this term – it’s something that we humans can also catch from ticks and the result is a difficult disease that needs to be managed for the rest of your life. It impacts dogs in a similar way, and in some cases can sadly be fatal, so being clued up on ticks, Lyme disease and how you can protect your dog against them is key. Especially if your four legged friend loves nothing more than exploring woodland and long grass on their walks. 

What are ticks and where can they be found?

Ticks are arachnids that feed on a number of hosts, from rodents to deer. This also includes dogs and humans. While warm weather is thought to be ideal for ticks, they are better adapted to cold weather. Ticks latch onto a host and feed on its blood. 

Ticks that carry Lyme disease can be found in long grass and woodland, where they’ll sit before dropping onto an animal that brushes past them and will attach to their skin. Birds are often carriers of ticks, so they can even be found in gardens and in towns.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial illness that can be transmitted to humans, dogs and other animals by ticks. The earlier Lyme disease is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. Only a small number of ticks are infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, but it’s best to be cautious. 

How do ticks spread Lyme disease?

Ticks feed on blood from a number of animals, and a tick may contract bacteria from any one of these unwilling hosts. It can then pass this on to the next animal they bite. The tick carries a bacterium that gets into the bloodstream when it feeds, spreading throughout the body – this happens to any animal that a Lyme-carrying tick attaches itself to.

If your dog has been wandering in an area that a tick has decided to make its home, it will attach itself to your pet and feed on their blood. It’s not a pleasant thought, but do keep in mind that not every tick is carrying Lyme disease – be vigilant and act as fast as possible if you suspect your dog has a tick. 

How will I know if my dog has a tick?

If you’ve been on a walk in an area likely to house ticks, be sure to check your dog as soon as you get home. Ticks often hide on the skin, so to check if your dog has a tick, run your hands over your dog’s body to check for lumps and bumps. Be sure to check under their collar, in and behind their ears and between their toes too – you never know where they might be. 

If you’ve found a tick on your dog, it needs to be removed as soon as possible to reduce the risk of disease. Don’t squeeze the tick. Simply twist it gently to remove it from your dog’s skin – there are special tools that you can buy such as the O’Tom Tick Twister that are effective and easier than using your fingers.

What are the signs of Lyme disease in dogs?

Infection can be missed in dogs as, unlike in humans, they don’t display a circular skin rash that is often said to look like a bullseye or target. Lyme disease can be fatal, so prevention plus keeping an eye out for any ticks on your dog will be the best way to mitigate the risk of your dog getting infected. 

It’s also important to keep an eye out for symptoms and get in touch with your vet if you suspect something is wrong with your dog. Dogs that develop Lyme disease can go on to suffer with acute arthritis, as well as overall illness. 

Other symptoms also include:

  • Reduced energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lameness
  • Swollen joints
  • Stiffness and discomfort.

In rare cases, dogs can develop heart disease or undergo behavioural changes. This makes it essential to focus on prevention, protecting your dog from ticks and the possibility of getting Lyme disease.

Vets will carry out a range of tests, including blood tests, on your dog if they suspect they have Lyme disease. Treatment can be relatively simple, and often includes a course of antibiotics, however in some cases long term treatment to manage symptoms and pain will be necessary.

How can I protect my dog against ticks?

Prevention is the best way to keep your dog safe from ticks. While we can’t keep our dogs away from environments where ticks might lurk, we should listen to any local alerts or advice about the presence of ticks and avoid any areas that are known to be especially active. 

  • Check your dog’s skin and coat after walks in grassy or woodland areas, particularly around the toes, eyes, ears and under the tail
  • Regular tick treatments such as Frontline Plus for Dogs will help to keep your dog protected so even if they come into contact with ticks while they’re out and about, they won’t be a very appetising host!

This simple routine – which usually involves putting a droplet of treatment onto your dog’s skin – every four to eight weeks will keep your dog healthy, avoiding a range of disease and irritation that ticks cause. Treatment is often simple and affordable, making it easy for you to keep your dog covered. 

Browse our range of easy and effective treatments here.

Phil’s top tips:

  • The quicker you remove a tick on your dog, the better, so always check your dog straight after a walk to give your dog the best possible chance of avoiding infection.
  • Ask your vet to conduct a tick check whenever you take your dog in for a check up. They can also advise you on the best way to carry out a check at home.
  • If you have a garden, keep the grass short and well cared for to reduce the likelihood of ticks making a home in your home!