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How to check your dog for fleas and ticks

If your pet pooch has an irritating itch and won’t stop scratching, chances are, fleas or ticks are to blame. But just what are these pesky parasites – and how should you check your pet for them?

What are ticks?

Usually found lurking in the long grass in fields or woodland areas, ticks can latch on to your dog when you’re out walking. They’re particularly prevalent in the spring and summer, but can be found in the countryside all year round. 

Ticks need a host to feed from, and to provide somewhere to find a mate for breeding. They’re particularly efficient at spreading disease, and well known for spreading a serious condition called Lyme disease which can be passed to humans too! 

What do ticks look like?

Because they’re so small, ticks can be hard to spot in your pet’s fur. Generally oval and flat, they swell to the size of a pea once they’re engorged with the blood of the host creature they’re feeding on – making them easier to spot. Like the spiders they’re related to, ticks have eight legs which you may be able to see if you look closely.

How to check your dog for ticks

So, how you do spot if your dog has been bitten by a tick? The best way is to groom your pet thoroughly after walking in the countryside. Brushing his hair against the direction of growth can help you spot any embedded ticks. It’s also a good idea to check inside his ears, around his muzzle, chin and eyes, and between the pads of his feet and toes.

“Usually found lurking in the long grass in fields or woodland areas, ticks can latch on to your dog when you’re out walking.”

What if I find a tick on my dog?

Ticks can be hard to remove cleanly as they embed themselves into your dog’s skin. It’s best to use a tick-removal tool – often called a ‘tick twister’ – or ask your vet to do it for you.  Do not burn, apply Vaseline or nail varnish to the tick. This increases the risk of disease.  

If you do manage to remove the tick yourself, check that its head and legs are intact, and that no parts of this horrible hitchhiker have been left behind in your dog’s skin. Tick removal is not a pleasant job, and you may want to wear disposable gloves or use kitchen towel. Do not risk squeezing the tick once removed in case of disease risk.

What are fleas?

Fleas are tiny, irritating creatures that can make your dog very uncomfortable. They make themselves at home in your dog’s fur, then bite into the skin and feed on his blood – yuck! 

Being well known for their jumping ability, fleas can leap up to 100 times their body length, making it easy for them to hop from one dog or puppy to another. With female fleas capable of laying up to 50 eggs a day, flea infestations are quick to take hold – and difficult to shift from both your pet and your home.

What do fleas look like?

Adult fleas are tiny brown creatures that are relatively, but not always, easy to spot hiding in your dog’s fur.

How to check your dog for fleas 

It’s a good idea to get into a regular grooming routine with your dog, to help nip any potential flea infestations in the bud. Start by combing your dog with a fine-toothed metal flea comb, checking carefully for adult fleas or flea dirt – tiny black specks on your dog’s skin.

Flea dirt looks identical to normal dirt, but if you place it on a wet paper towel it will dissolve revealing red dots (flea dirt is just digested blood!).

If you spot either sign on your dog – or he’s displaying the symptoms below – your local vet will advise you on the best possible treatment for your dog, and your home.

Dog fleas symptoms include: 

  • Chewing
  • Licking
  • Sores on the skin
  • Excessive grooming
  • Biting
  • Restless behaviour 
  • Visible adult fleas in your dog’s fur
  • Visible flea dirt on your dog’s skin

Can I prevent my dog from getting fleas or ticks?

There is a wide range of flea and tick-prevention products available to help to prevent fleas and ticks in dogs, ranging from impregnated collars to spot-on treatments and sprays. Learn how to apply flea treatment to your dog in our handy video. Getting into a regular treatment routine can help you keep your dog free from these pesky parasites. Speak to your vet if you need advice or help choosing an effective product. 

Find your nearest vet using our Find a Vet page, or speak to a vet online using Online Vets.