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5 Myths About Ticks

Found a tick on your dog? A veterinarian breaks down everything you need to know. 

by Dr. Shea Cox, DVM, CVPP, CHPV
Updated June 3, 2022
A dog getting its head checked for ticks
Gillian Vann / Stocksy

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Summer is the season of taking your dog on long walks, allowing them to hang their head out the window as long as they’d like, and maybe even letting them splash in a pool or lake. Unfortunately, it’s also the season of ticks — which can pose serious health risks for both dogs and humans, no matter what state you live in. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that ticks in every state can carry disease, and the number of tick-borne diseases is on the rise. These diseases are transmitted by parasites that carry bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens. These diseases may be dangerous, but dogs can usually avoid them with preventative medicine.

Here in Northern California, ticks seem to be everywhere, and it’s not uncommon for me to find an incidental tick (or two) during a dog’s physical exam (learn how to do a DIY physical exam at home). This usually leads to a tick-related conversation where I have to dispel some common tick myths. Below, the truth behind the five most common tick myths.

1. Myth: “The best way to remove a tick is with a lit match, petroleum jelly, or alcohol.”

The truth: None of these methods cause a tick to “back out” of the skin and can actually cause more injury. When you try to remove an embedded tick in this manner, you can actually aggravate it, causing the tick to deposit more disease-carrying saliva into the wound, and increasing the risk of infection.

The best way to remove a tick is by using tweezers, grasping it as close to the dog’s skin as possible, and pulling the tick out with a steady motion. Dispose of the removed tick down the toilet or by placing it in rubbing alcohol. You should clean the skin with mild soap and water after its removal.

You may see a little red circle (like a bull’s eye) or bump of redness on the skin at the insertion site following removal — this can be normal and may be visible for up to a couple of days. You should see your veterinarian if the region of redness increases in size or if it doesn’t go away within 2-3 days.

2. Myth: “I don’t take my dog hiking in the woods, so I don’t have to worry about tick exposure.”

The truth: Ticks live on the ground no matter the locale, and this includes urban parks and rural areas. Ticks typically crawl up blades of grass, looking to hitch a ride as your dog passes by. They like to migrate upward, which is often why they’re found on the head.

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3. Myth: “Ticks aren’t a problem in colder weather, so I only have to worry in the summer.”

The truth: In most areas of the country, “tick season” runs from April to November; however, infection can occur any time of the year. For example, in the winter, some tick species actually move indoors, while other species make a type of “internal antifreeze” to survive during the winter months. This is why veterinarians recommend year-round tick prevention.

4. Myth: “Lyme disease is the only illness that ticks can transmit to dogs (and their humans).”

The truth:  While Lyme disease is the most widely known and common disease caused by ticks, there are other diseases including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, and ehrlichiosis. These diseases can have equally devastating effects on our pets.

5. Myth: “If I find a tick on my dog, or if I see the “bull’s eye” red ring on my dog’s skin, I should get a blood test right away because it will immediately tell me if my dog has disease.”

The truth: If your pet is ill and you are aware of tick exposure, a tick-borne disease screen is highly recommended. However, it’s important to note that lab tests for tick-borne diseases are often negative on the first sample and require a second test in two to three weeks to confirm infection. Therefore, a negative test does not necessarily mean that your dog is free from disease. It should also be noted that many dogs with tick-borne illness do not experience any symptoms, especially in the early stages of disease.

One last tip: If you do attempt to remove a tick at home, make sure that it’s actually a tick! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen a pet in an emergency for an accidentally removed nipple (ouch!). 

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Dr. Shea Cox, DVM, CVPP, CHPV

Dr. Shea Cox is the founder of BluePearl Pet Hospice and is a global leader in animal hospice and palliative care. With a focus on technology, innovation and education, her efforts are changing the end-of-life landscape in veterinary medicine.