What Does A Tick Look & Feel Like? Fact Checked By Our Vet
Ticks. These tiny bloodsuckers have the not-so-unique ability to make our skin crawl even though they are no larger than the rear end of a cotton bud.
Ticks are unfortunately commonplace in the life of a dog. It is highly unlikely that you’ll live an entire lifetime with your dog without getting well acquainted with at least one of these unassuming parasites.
But that’s the thing - the “unassuming” part of it all. How can you tell if your dog has ticks?
What does a tick on a dog look and feel like?
They so often go unnoticed, hidden in the wades of fur your dog has or perfectly blended into their pink skin.
In this article, we are going to make you an official tick aficionado. You’ll be able to spot those suckers before they cause any serious harm.
What Are Ticks And Why Should We Care?
Ticks are small parasites that suck on the blood of animals (dogs, humans or otherwise) for sustenance. They are complete experts at it too. They often have completely camouflaging coloured exteriors to animal skin and can therefore feast away happily on your dog’s bloodstream without anyone noticing. Pretty impressive. When they are roaming free, they look like little spiders.
And sure, there are many parasites out there that go unnoticed.
You have dozens of them living on your eyelashes right now! Don’t believe me? Look up eyelash mites if you want to creep yourself out. (1)
But unlike eyelash mites, ticks are foes, not friends.
You may be wondering how much bother a tiny tick can really cause. How much blood could they extract anyway? Well, that’s not the danger. The danger is:
Paralysis ticks kill
Paralysis ticks are common in Australia and are an extremely serious threat to the lives of any dog they come into contact with. Tick paralysis/poisoning is a potentially fatal condition that requires immediate veterinarian help.
Ticks spread diseases
Ticks have a direct feed into the bloodstream once they latch on. Though your pup may not notice it, the indirect effects are very damaging. So many diseases are spread via blood. Just think of the reputation mosquitoes have for the magical vampiric abilities.
Lyme Disease and various bacterial diseases can be tick-bourne. (2) These diseases are unpleasant and way more affecting than you would first expect for a tiny tick.
It’s important we can identify and remove ticks safely.
Related: Best Tick Prevention For Dogs Australia.
What Do Ticks Look Like On Dogs?
This is the tricky part. Ticks are masters at hiding themselves in plain sight.
I am surely not the only person to hack at an unsuspecting mini tick-like lump on my dog’s ear, only to realise that it was actually just a skin tag. My dog is old and gentle so she didn’t protest, but a little “hey so that’s just one of my moles” bark would have been helpful in that moment of embarrassment.
So how do you avoid making that mistake and spot ticks on dogs?
Step 1: Scan your dog for ticks using your fingers
A small tick on your dog is usually best identified by touch rather than by sight.
You are likely petting your dog constantly and should be grooming them semi-regularly too depending on the breed. Therefore, it’s easy to work in a quick tick-checking routine into your daily cuddles.
It doesn’t need to be clinical at all. Normally we recommend the following:
Have a quick feel around your dog’s ears. Be sure to flip up their ears if your dog has long floppy ears too to have a look inside.
Feel around the stomach and groin area softly
Feel through your dog’s fur over the legs and between toes. Ticks could be lurking anywhere!
Step 1a: Check for evidence
Sometimes the easier thing to do rather than seeking out the sucker himself is to seek out bite marks or other signs of ticks on dogs.
So what do tick bites look like on dogs?
Well, to be honest, tick bites aren’t very easy to see, but their aftermath is easy to see.
Ticks have quite the grabbing power so when they come loose from your dog’s skin, they leave a small wound. This usually heals over quickly as a scab. If you are finding lots of unexplained scabs over your dog’s body, your dog may have ticks.
Ticks on your carpets
Another common way to spot ticks is actually not on your dog at all. Ticks are quite good multipliers and it is rare for just one to be seeking out your pup as a potential blood supply. So you may see tiny ticks on your carpet or floor. They are so minuscule they can be mistaken as other creatures, but you’ll be able to identify them via their rounded bodies and reddish-brown tone.
The ticks-in-dog-ear shake
Ticks like warm, moist, dark and concealed areas of the body to bury themselves. The ear is a prime candidate for this, particularly in long-eared breeds. Luckily, your dog’s ears are sensitive, and although ticks aren’t painful or that irritating, they do tickle a bit. Your dog will notice something is in their ear and have a subtle (too subtle!) way of letting you know.
Dogs often shake their heads but not so often that you wouldn’t notice it if they were doing it more often.
Step 2: Identify the tick (with caution)
If you have found a brownish, grey or pink lump, asking yourself the following questions:
- Is the body of the lump round/oval-shaped? - if yes, continue to question 2
- Is the lump hard? - If yes, continue to question 3. If the lump is soft and fleshy, it is likely a skin tag.
||Pro Tip: When identifying whether an unusual small lump is a tick or not, don’t squeeze it too hard. Apply a featherlight pressure to see if the lump is hard or soft or not. If you squeeze it too hard and it is a tick, you can burst the tick’s body, but the head will remain alive and stuck in your dog’s skin - Yuck!
- Can you see the head? - Trick question! The head is buried deep in your dog’s flesh so it is very unlikely you will see the head. Don’t make the mistake of leaving a suspicious lump on your dog if the lump appears headless
- Can you see legs? - If yes, continue to question 5. If no, also continue to question 4, legs can be difficult to see.
- Does the body have a reddish colour due to blood? - If yes, it’s a tick. It could also be grey, black or light red in colour.
My Final Thoughts
You can probably tell that in all of my research on parasites that can affect our dog’s lives, ticks are particularly fascinating. They are effective, sneaky and intuitive which makes them hard to spot. We hope that this article helped to point you in the right direction when identifying if that unusual lump is a tick or a skin tag.
The whole procedure should be handled with care, but the biggest takeaway we want to give you here is:
- You are not a bad dog parent if your dog has a tick. Ticks are common but being able to spot and treat them quickly is vital to your dog’s health.
- Prevention is the best medicine as they say! Your dog will most likely get a tick once or twice in their lifetimes, but there are various methods you can use to prevent your dog’s getting ticks.
Ticks are quite awe-inspiring in a way because of their effectiveness as parasites. Ticks can’t jump like fleas. They can’t fly like mosquitoes. They use their imperceptible lightweight stature and camouflage skills to attack.
“Ticks wait for host animals on the tips of grasses and shrubs. When the plant is brushed by a moving animal or person, the tick quickly lets go of the vegetation and climbs onto the host. This is a process known as questing.” writes Ryan Llera, DVM, & Ernest Ward, DVM, from VCA Hospitals. (4)
QUESTING! Like the Sherlock Holmes of parasitic insects.
There is a range of products on the market that can help you to prevent your dog from getting ticks. The most popular are tick and flea collars, but there are also chewable medicines, shampoos, drops and sprays.
It somewhat depends on whether your pup is already suffering from tick bites or if you are in pure prevention mode.
For pure prevention mode, collars and spot-on drop treatments are great as they are not very invasive.
If your dog gets ticks regularly or has a tick right now that you want rid of, sprays, chewable medicines and shampoos are your best options.
This has certainly been a concern in the dog community and one you are right to be cautious about.
The red flag was raised in 2018.
The American Kennel Club reported, “The Food and Drug Administration has issued an alert advising pet owners of the potential for adverse reactions (muscle tremors, loss of muscle control and seizures) in dogs and cats when treated with drugs in the Isoxazoline class.” (5)
Isoxazoline is found in many tick and flea treatments on the market. Not only that, dog tick treatments are found to be toxic to cats completely so it is important that they are kept away from any freshly treated skin.
While these are concerning, generally these adverse are quite rare. They have been found in very few instances worldwide and most vets trust in the efficacy of tick treatment products.
However, if you are still a bit nervous, you can always opt for toxin-free options.
- Seltman, W. July 9, 2020. “Eyelash Mites: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment”. Retrieved May 17, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/eye-health/eyelash-mites
- Klein, J. May 1, 2019. “AKC’s Chief Veterinary Officer Weighs In On Tick-Borne Diseases”. American Kennel Club. Retrieved May 17, 2021. “https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/akcs-chief-veterinary-officer-on-tick-borne-disease-symptoms-prevention/
- “5 Signs Your Dog Has Ticks”. March 23, 2016. PetMD Editorial. Retrieved May 17, 2021. https://www.petmd.com/dog/parasites/signs-your-dog-has-ticks
- Llera, R & Ward, E. “Ticks in Dogs”. VCA Hospitals. Retrieved May 17, 2021. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/ticks-in-dogs
- Klein, J. October 25, 2018. “FDA Alert On Flea and Tick Products for Pets”. Retrieved May 17, 2021. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/vets-corner/fda-alert-flea-tick-products/