Ticks: Facts and Myths

Ticks are an increasing problem. Discover the facts.

Created: 11/08/2017 Updated: 27/08/2021 - Shelley Audis-Riddell

dogs, health, Health & Wellbeing, parasite

Over the last few years, vets and pet owners have been reporting increased numbers of ticks on dogs. The increase may be due to warmer winters, more people exercising their dogs in rural areas, and changes to farming practices.

Species of tick

There are over 20 different types of ticks in the UK: all very similar in appearance. They can be as small as a single poppy seed or when fully engorged they can reach 11mm! There is evidence that ticks have been around for at least 90 million years and there are two specific families: Hard Ticks (Ixodidae) and Soft Ticks (Argasidae). They are both known to carry and transmit diseases or illness that are hazardous to humans and animals. Ticks are quite partial to moist conditions and can be found all year round in woodland, grassland, parkland or areas of long grass and dense vegetation. The most common tick found on our pets is that of the Sheep Tick (also known as the Deer Tick).

Dog jumping through field of buttercups

Ticks are small, round bodied creatures that slightly resemble a spider. Ticks can vary in size depending on their stage of life cycle, species, gender and whether or not they have just fed. Thankfully, ticks do not have powerful hind legs and are not able to jump or fly! A tick will use its surroundings to enable it to use its hooked legs to climb up plants or bushes and wait for a host to latch on to: where they bite to attach themselves and begin their blood meal.

Once on a dog, the tick burrows into the fur and feels around for a suitable feeding site. The axillae (armpits), groin, and behind the ears are common places to find ticks.

Adult ticks have 4 pairs of legs and no visible head - just a mouth that cuts into the skin. As they latch on to their unsuspecting victims they inject a saliva that prevents blood clotting. The bacteria that ticks transmit when they feed can cause diseases such as Lyme's Disease. Not all tick bites result in disease, but if you are concerned about your pet’s health we recommend you seek advice from your vet.

It may take a number of days for a tick to finish its meal. Once full, the tick will drop off to continue with its life cycle.

Tick Removal

If you find one of these little critters on your dog or cat it is possible to remove them with a specially designed tick removal tool or tweezers - just be careful not to “pop” them! If you don't want to get too close (which is totally understandable) why not try our Tick Away? This non-toxic and non-insecticidal spray is a very effective freezing treatment that kills within a few minutes and, as a result, the tick just falls off. It is important not to crush a tick, even after it has been removed from your pet, and it is safest for you to flush it away in some toilet roll.

Tick on a leaf

Tick treatments

Many different tick spot-ons, tablets, sprays, and collars are available if your dog is prone to getting ticks. Some repel ticks, but others need the tick to bite; others might be less suitable for dogs who swim regularly. Speak to your vet who can suggest the best options for your dog. Tick-borne diseases can be slow to show symptoms, so mention any bites to your vet even if they occurred months before an illness.

Tick treatment for dogs and cats

Tick treatment for dogs

Tick treatment for cats

Dog with black cat sat on the grass

Understandably, concerned pet owners turn to the internet for advice, but as well as good advice, there is advice which is potentially dangerous:

The myth: Pet owners can kill Ticks by covering them with Petroleum Jelly/ liquid soap/ peppermint oil/ whisky etc.

The truth: True, but very dangerous! Smothering a tick in things like Petroleum Jelly or any of the other home remedies mentioned increases the risk of it regurgitating blood into the host and spreading disease.

The myth: Pet owners must be careful not to leave the head in when doing a tick removal.

The truth: Ticks don't have heads. You should be careful not to break off the tick mouthparts but even if you do the dog will recover.

The myth: Red lump means the head is still in the skin.

The truth: Again, ticks don't have heads. A red swelling is common even with proper removal as it is often a reaction to the tick saliva.

The myth: Ticks won't spread disease for 48 hours after biting.

The truth: This was believed to be true until very recently. It is now thought that disease can sometimes be spread as soon as a tick bites.

Want to learn more about parasites in pets?

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Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.