A close-up of a tick standing on a leaf.

Debunking Common Myths About Ticks and Dogs

Do you think that only dogs who spend time in the woods get ticks? Or that ticks get on your dog by falling from trees? Check out these and other common myths about ticks and dogs that veterinarians commonly hear. The facts may surprise you!

Myth #1: Only dogs that spend time in the woods get ticks.

Fact: Ticks tend to live where the animals they feed on (hosts) live, regardless of urban, suburban or rural locale. Ticks may be found in any areas of tall grass, shrubbery, brush and other plant material, particularly along animal trails or footpaths. Ticks typically don’t fall from trees, although they can climb. In fact, adult black-legged ticks have been found up to 3 feet off of the ground waiting for a host.

Adult ticks crawl up grass blades, tall weeds or bushes, where they wait for an animal or person to walk by (a process called questing). When you or your dog brushes against them or the plants on which they’re resting, they climb aboard, find a suitable spot on the skin to attach, and feed for several hours or even several days. Once feeding is complete, ticks drop off of their host and into the environment.

Immature ticks tend to be found in leaf litter or in the layers of decomposing leaves under trees and may crawl onto a host when the debris is disturbed.

Myth #2: Cold winter weather kills ticks.

Fact: Ticks don’t die just because it’s winter, not even in the Northern states. Some ticks become dormant, others hide in the leaf litter of wooded and brushy areas, some move indoors, and still others spend the winter on animals. Snow cover actually insulates dormant ticks from cold temperatures, just as it does grass and other plants.

Adult black-legged ticks (deer ticks), the species that transmits Lyme disease, begin feeding around the time of the first frost. Adults that don’t find hosts as winter closes in will take cover under leaf litter or other plant material. During midwinter thaws, when temperatures reach higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, black-legged ticks can become active and have been found on plants above snow-covered ground searching for hosts. It’s. seemingly always the season for ticks and dogs.

Myth #3: Ticks transmit disease as soon as they bite a dog.

Fact: Ticks can carry and transmit several different types of disease-causing organisms (pathogens), including bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxins. The good news is that not all ticks are infected and most tick bites don’t result in disease.

The feeding time necessary for disease-causing organisms to be passed to a host varies among ticks and pathogens. Some bacteria may be transmitted within three to six hours of tick attachment, while others require more than 24 hours before transmission occurs.

Since it’s impossible to know if a tick is infected, prompt removal is key to preventing pathogen transfer from ticks to dogs. You’ll also want to discuss with your veterinarian which tick control product is appropriate for your dog.

Myth #4: If a dog is vaccinated against Lyme disease, they don’t need a tick treatment.

Fact: Lyme disease is the most widely known and common tick-transmitted disease in the United States. But ticks may carry and transmit several other disease-causing organisms to dogs and people. So while we’re fortunate to have a vaccine to help protect dogs against Lyme disease, there are no effective vaccines to protect dogs from these other organisms and the diseases they cause. That’s why it’s still important to use a tick control product and regularly check your dog for ticks after spending time outside. Be sure to ask your veterinarian which tick control product is best suited for your dog.

Myth #5: The best way to remove an attached tick is with a hot match, fingernail polish or petroleum jelly.

Fact: While these “home remedies” for removing attached ticks may or may not work, they’re actually dangerous to your dog. Using a lit or hot match to detach a tick is not only ineffective, it can easily burn your dog — and remember, hair is highly flammable! Fingernail polish and petroleum jelly may eventually suffocate feeding ticks, but by the time ticks die, they may have passed disease-causing organisms to your dog.

The best way to remove an attached tick is to grasp it with tweezers as close to the skin as possible while avoiding the tick’s abdomen. Gently, firmly and steadily pull on the tick until it comes out. Jerking or twisting the tick may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. Once the tick is removed, clean the wound with soap and water, and clean your tweezers with rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. You also may want to preserve the tick in a small container of rubbing alcohol for identification. Be sure to label the container with information about the time and place where the tick bite most likely occurred.

Of course, if you’re not sure how to properly remove a tick, ask your veterinarian to show you.

Now what?

Now that we’ve busted these common myths about ticks and dogs, what should you do? Talk with your veterinarian about which tick control product is right for your dog. And consistently check your dog for ticks. If you’re wondering where ticks hide on dogs, they tend to be found on the back of the neck, the lower back and the base of the tail; all of the places that a dog might not be able to easily groom or get to. If you make a habit of running your hands around these areas after every outside excursion, you’ll eliminate a lot of risk.

To learn more about ticks and other parasites that can affect your dog, check out the Companion Animal Parasite Council’s website.


RELATED POST: The Life (and Death) of Fleas and Ticks on Dogs


The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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