Dog Ticks: how to keep the dangerous, little suckers away

It’s amazing – and pretty scarey – how something as unnoticeable as a tick bite can impact your dog’s health and shorten his life.

Tick bites are, indeed, something to worry about.  Ticks are vectors for serious disease.  By the time one’s dog begins to show symptoms of illness, it is often too late to avoid health problems.  The good news is that ticks do not transmit disease for at least 24 hours after biting; so frequent tick-checks can circumvent these problems.  Better still, take steps to ensure that ticks do not bite the dog, in the first place.

You and your dog don’t have to have your lives spoiled by tick-borne diseases.  Knowing what to look for, and incorporating a few simple actions into your life will protect your whole family, both people and pets. 

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Should I Worry about Ticks on my Dog?

Ticks are certainly a concern; even more so if one has children, a pet, or both. Ticks carry a number of harmful diseases, some of which can impact one for a lifetime.  

If you find a tick on your dog, please act immediately.  By that, I do not mean that it is an emergency worthy of a veterinary visit; but you do need to remove the tick right away, and check the dog thoroughly, to make certain there are not any more.  If the tick is attatched – that is, biting – it needs to be removed carefully. If you’re not careful, it can leave body parts and illness behind. 

It’s a good idea to go through his bedding. If you find any ticks crawling around there, it’s good that they haven’t found the dog yet. Shake out the bedding and launder it, just in case. 

You should not worry about any tick bites from within the last 24 hours. If it’s been on there longer than 24 hours, have him seen by the veterinarian. 

What Happens When a Dog Gets a Tick?

Ticks tend to be stealthy. They wait in untended grassy or wooded areas to hitch a ride on a passing foot – Dog, coyote, deer, human, it doesn’t matter. As the tick bites, it will not be painful for your pup. In fact, the bite may not even bother him; because as the tick bites, he injects a numbing agent into his victim. 

From there, it may bite the foot it rode in on, or it may walk around on your dog, to bite him elsewhere. The tick itself won’t kill your dog. What happens is the tick feeds on a sick animal, and then may pass that disease to the next creature from whom it feeds. 

What are the Signs that your Dog has a Tick?

Dogs don’t usually show any signs that they have a tick on them, unless it’s in a sensitive spot, like his ear. That’s what makes ticks so dangerous – One can latch on to your hound, feed as much as it wants, and drop off, unnoticed. 

A tick can actually stay on its host (the scientific term for a tick’s victim) for years.  Greyhounds are blessed with a single, short coat, making it easy to watch them for ticks; but ticks can hide more successfully on dogs with thicker coats, especially in dark colors.

Even on a greyhound, ticks can hide. I discovered a very tricky tick off my Lily just last month.  While we were out for a walk, Lily’s ears shot to attention, when she noticed a rabbit. It was only then that I spied the tick, which had been hidden where her ear folded down. 

I’ll also never forget the time I found one lodged behind the large pad on Shannon’s paw. 

A tick-borne illness may happen to your dog if a tick is not removed.  The longer it stays on, the greater the chance is that it will pass on disease. That chance doubles after 48 hours. 

It is important for dog owners to always keep tick diseases in mind, anytime one’s dog is “acting weird.”  An excellent article over at Greyhound Welfare states

Almost every ex-racer has been exposed, but not all develop disease. Greyhounds can carry the disease for years, but only show signs when a stressful event, such as surgery, occurs; or when the disease has broken down their immune systems. Please keep this in mind if your dog suffers unexplained illness – it could be a lurking tick-borne disease that is finally showing signs.”  

Greyhound Welfare, Inc.

Greyhound Welfare also has an extensive list of symptoms, so scroll to the bottom of this page for the link to that article.

What Should I Do if my Dog has Ticks?

When encountering a tick on one’s dog, the mind immediately jumps to wondering what would be the best home remedy to kill the tick instantly, such as a bath, using Dawn dish soap.  The truth is more tedious than that, though – Ticks must be removed individually, and very carefully.  Forget tweezers; they can squash the tick, mainlining its toxins into your hound.  The best tool I have found for this is the Tick Key.  

Ironically, I first heard of the Tick Key at a lecture given by a woman from URI (a source I cite in this article).  I was very interested in the Tick Key in her display, only to have her tell me that Tick Keys are no good, “because you can never find it when you need it.”  I guess she never heard the saying, “it is a poor worker who blames his tools.”

Well, never mind her.  The Tick Key is the only thing I’ve ever used to remove a tick that actually prompts a biting tick to back out, the safest and easiest of all possible outcomes.  It doesn’t always go that well, but the Tick Key gives you the best results you’re going to get in any tick removal situation.  This link will take you to a 3-pack, which gives you extras for cars and second homes.  

I keep mine with Lily’s toothbrushing stuff.  Other good ideas are hanging it where you hang your dog’s leash, or to install a small hook or nail on the inside of a cabinet door.  Do not attatch it with your keys or your dog’s tags, which could damage the Tick Key.

Until your Tick Key arrives, you can remove ticks with a tweezer, whose blades are cushioned with a bit of masking tape.  Get a hold on the tick, and slowly pull it backward.  Never yank or tug on a tick.  Using a Tick Key, follow the directions on the key.  If you have a tough time getting the tick into a secure position in the Key, you can push down a bit, and use a toothpick to help ease the tick into just the right spot.  Good light and a helper make it even easier.  Also, have a piece of packaging tape ready to entomb the captured tick.  I usually use the Tick Key to crush the taped tick, to make certain it’s dead. 

What is the Safest Tick Prevention for Dogs?

One thing not to do, is to get lulled into a false sense of security, because an online map shows low tick activity in your state.  It only takes one tick to ruin a life.  Besides, tick reporting is, apparently, not an exact science.  According to, ticks can be found in every US state, often in heavier concentration than is reported. reported figures showing underreporting in nearly half of all states.  Some of the states had differences that were so great, they wouldn’t fit on my graph (below), which is why you only see ten states represented there.  It does give you a good, basic idea of the inaccuracies, though.

The best tick prevention, by far, is to inspect your dog for ticks every time he comes back into the house (in my area, I need to do this any time the temperatures are in the mid-40’s or higher; which means April – October, and on the occasional mild day during the other months).  The beauty of doing this is that it makes it far less likely that any tick is going to stay on your dog long enough to make him sick.

You can prevent the ticks from getting on him, to begin with.  Monthly preventative medication works great, but be aware that they are not without risks.  Lily is at the very bottom of the weight-range for her medication, and I find that a half-dose keeps the ticks from biting her.  If this is the case for your dog, run it by your veterinarian, and see if he thinks a half dose would be effective.

Washing your pet’s bedding weekly can help, since ticks can live in the house.  

Pro Tip: Dab a little Citronella essential oil onto a dryer sheet, and throw it into the dryer with your hound’s freshly-washed bedding.  Not only does it keep insects away from his bed, it also gets the bug-repelling citronella onto him.  Works with your clothing, too.

Can Dog Ticks Bite Humans?

They certainly can, and will transmit many of the same diseases that can harm dogs.  When ticks are active, it’s good to have a look at yourself in the mirror every night, while you’re changing into your PJ’s.  Feel your neck and scalp, too.  As with dogs, the 24-hour rule applies – As long as you check every day, you have a better chance of avoiding severe tick bites.  Look closely – Some ticks can be as small as a poppy seed!

If you find a tick on yourself, the removal procedure is the same as it is for dogs.  If it is embedded, or you suspect it’s been on for longer than 24 hours, see a doctor, who will set you up with preventative antibiotics.  This has happened to my neighbors several times.

University of Rhode Island’s Tick Encounter websiteoutlines the following five tips for keeping your pup  – as well as the rest of the family – safe from tick diseases:

  • Running clothes through the washer will not kill ticks…but running them through the dryer will, so dry them first!
  • Keep ticks and pesticides off of yourself by spraying your shoes with insect repellant.
  • Discourage your hound from leaving the path.
  • If your dog enjoys playing in the leaves, rake up those from the center of the yard.  They’re less infested.  Always check him afterward.

Resources for Further Exploration

By Gail McGaffigan

The owner of the Greyhound Homecare website and YouTube channel, Gail has had retired racing greyhounds as pets since 1997. Please visit our channel, too!