Treating ticks, fleas and other parasites on dogs
Ticks are eight-legged parasites that bite your dog to drink their blood. Although ticks are very tiny, they can swell up to the size of a pea once they’ve attached themselves to your dog by burying their mouthparts into their skin.
There are several types of tick that can affect dogs in the UK, including dog ticks, sheep ticks and hedgehog ticks. They can also bite humans too, and some ticks can transmit diseases.
How do I spot ticks?
Dog ticks are just large enough to be visible, especially if they’ve already had a bite – then they can look like small warts, and on closer inspection you can see their legs, too. You’ll usually find them around your dog’s head and neck area - just part your dog’s fur and run your fingers along their skin. Tick bites on dogs can also cause irritation and redness.
How do I remove ticks?
Never pull a tick out of your dog’s skin as you may end up leaving the mouthpart behind, which could cause an infection or inflammation. Instead, ask your vet to give you a specially designed tick removal tool that will get rid of the mouthparts as well, and ask them to show you how to remove dog ticks if you’re unsure.
Once you’ve removed the tick, check that its head and legs are intact and there’s nothing left behind in your dog’s skin. If you think there might be, talk to your vet who will be able to advise you and put your mind at ease.
Some flea products also kill ticks, while others provide a bit of extra protection against them, although they’ll need more frequent application than usual. Always talk to your vet to find the best treatment for your dog.
What are fleas?
Fleas are the most common external parasites of both cats and dogs. They measure about 1-2mm and can live for 7-14 days, dividing their time between living on your dog and laying eggs. Female fleas lay up to 40 eggs every day which are white, oval-shaped and about half a millimetre long. They hatch into tiny larvae that burrow into carpets, upholstery and often your dog’s bedding, which then develop into pupae. These will lie quietly for many months – you won’t even know they’re there – until they sense warmth and vibration. They then emerge as adult fleas and jump onto a passing ‘host’ – in this case your dog – before starting the cycle all over again! For every single flea living on your dog, there could be 99 more growing in your home, no matter how clean it is.
Dog fleas can potentially transmit diseases and are the most common cause of dog skin problems. Bites are itchy for all dogs, and can lead to some developing allergies, such as FAD (flea allergic dermatitis). Late summer is peak season for fleas thanks to high humidity and warm temperatures, but cosy central heating in winter means you’ll need to de-flea all year round.
How do I spot fleas?
Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there! The most obvious sign that your dog has fleas is persistent scratching, or sometimes over-grooming, which can result in bald patches on their coat. If your dog develops a flea allergy they may also have scabs and red, sore areas on their skin. Regular grooming won’t prevent parasites on your dog, but it will at least alert you to any symptoms sooner rather than later, so you can seek treatment as soon as possible.
Dog fleas are dark brown and 1-2mm long. You might spot them in your carpet or notice tiny black specks of flea dirt in your dog’s fur during combing. A good way to test is to put these specks onto some damp tissue paper – if it’s flea dirt, the specks will turn red because of the digested blood they contain.
Always talk to your vet about dog flea treatments and use a vet-approved product that’s been tested for safety and effectiveness. If you have dogs as well as cats, don’t treat your dog near your cat, as dog flea treatments contain permethrin which is toxic to cats. Treat your pets separately, and try to keep them apart for a period of time so that they don’t risk transferring treatments by contact.
When you’re getting rid of dog fleas, remember you’ll have to treat your house as well as your dog. You should use a combination of topical products to kill the adult fleas, plus a treatment that will prevent eggs developing into adults. Make sure all soft furnishings and carpets are regularly thoroughly washed at a high heat, too.
Powders are quite an old-fashioned and messy way of treating fleas on your dog, as the powder needs to remain on your dog’s coat to be effective and can cause illness if it’s swallowed or inhaled.
Sprays are also used less frequently than they used to be, thanks mainly to the invention of more effective ‘spot-on’ treatments.
Flea collars aren’t usually very effective at treatng fleas on dogs as they have a limited range – that is, they only treat the area around the neck – and can also cause hair loss or irritation. However, there is a new generation of flea collars – available from your vet – which are much kinder to your dog’s skin and fur, and work by dispersing the active ingredient through the body rather than simply sitting on your dog’s neck. Remember, all dog collars must have a quick-release mechanism; otherwise your dog could get caught or tangled.
These products are the simplest and most effective way of treating and preventing fleas. They usually consist of a small vial of liquid which should be applied to the back of your dog’s neck, killing fleas and sometimes the development of eggs. There are several brands available, so talk to your vet to find the best one for your dog.
Tablets and liquids
- These are absorbed into the dog’s body and either kill fleas when they have a bite, or sterilise them so they can’t reproduce.
- These are available to prevent the development of flea eggs but a topical treatment may be needed at the same time.
- Some of the treatments mentioned above are helpful in treating your house as well, as they prevent fleas from laying eggs, or prevent the eggs from developing.
However, there are many household sprays available that can be used on carpets and furnishings. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which will usually tell you to vacuum your carpets to bring dog fleas and eggs to the surface before thoroughly spraying your carpet, and then vacuuming again. Always spray the vacuum cleaner with flea spray and throw away any vacuum bags – you don’t want fleas developing and crawling out of there! Don’t use sprays near fish tanks and always make sure all pets are kept away from treated areas until they’ve been well-ventilated. Unfortunately, very severe infestations in a house may require pest control treatment.
Non-veterinary approved products
Some flea treatment products claim to contain natural ingredients such as oil of citronella and eucalyptus. These usually haven’t undergone any stringent safety tests, so are not guaranteed to work or be safe for your dog. Always check with your vet before you use any product on your pet.
Mites are tiny creatures, usually under a millimetre long, that burrow into your dog’s skin and cause irritation and inflammation. If your pet is infested with dog mites, it is known as a condition called mange and the common types are “sarcoptic mange” and “demodectic mange”. Other conditions caused by mites include cheyletiellosis, and trombiculosis, also known as “harvest mite” infestation. Ear mites live in the ear canals of dogs.
How do I tell if my dog has mites?
Sarcoptic mange is a very itchy and unpleasant dog skin condition that can also affect humans. Affected dogs can cause damage to their skin and coat with constant scratching, leaving redness and sometimes scabs.
Demodectic mange is a serious skin complaint that causes hair loss, reddening, sore areas, scaling, crusting, lesions and the darkening of chronically affected skin. It usually affects younger dogs and can be very serious if left untreated.
How do I treat my dog for worms?
Most dog worming treatments protect your dog from roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and heart worms. These are the most common worms and should be protected against monthly.
Tapeworm in dogs should be treated for every 3-6 months depending on the flea treatment you use – fleas are the carriers of tapeworm, so no fleas means no tapeworm.
Lungworm is a very serious threat to dogs, so it’s important you protect your dog against this type of worm by treating them regularly. Lungworm is transmitted by snails and slugs, either by your dog eating them, or because your dog licks, chews or eats something that’s been in contact with them, such as toys and bowls. Symptoms of lungworm include coughing, avoiding exercise, difficulty breathing and weight loss.
Lungworm is easily preventable – your vet should be able to let you know how to put your mind at rest. Dogs should be treated against lungworm every four weeks, and treatment comes in the form of spot-ons, tablets, pastes or powders that can be sprinkled on food.
Worming is very important during pregnancy and lactating as worms can pass between mum and pups through the placenta and through feeding. Your vet will be able to advise on suitable worming treatments for pregnant dogs.
Unfortunately there’s no single product to protect against fleas, ticks, mites and worms, so speak to your vet to make sure your dog is up to date with all their necessary treatments and then they can get on with a happy and healthy life!