As the warm months arrive, you want to get outside. So does your dog. But there’s something to keep in mind: keeping your pup safe from ticks. With ineffective miracle collars on the market and confusing advice online about how to remove the critters, it can be tricky to know what to do.

Here’s how to protect your pup, and yourself, from getting bitten.

What ticks are found on dogs in the Philly area?

Tick species vary depending on where you live, and they can affect both you and your four-legged friend. In Philadelphia — as in the rest of Pennsylvania — the most common species that attach to dogs are the American dog tick and the Lyme-disease-carrying deer tick, says Alicia Royer, a shelter veterinarian at Main Line Animal Rescue.

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Places of high risk for ticks in Philadelphia

High grasses, wooded areas, and parks are some of the most common places where your dog can pick up ticks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some ticks will wait for a host on tips of grasses and shrubs for some creature to pass by. This shouldn’t stop you from taking your pup to the dog park or for walks on trails, says Royer. Just make sure to take some precautions for yourself and your dog.

After a walk or hike, check yourself and your dog before going home. In particular, check your dog’s ears, neck, belly, and legs, because ticks are highly attracted to body heat, moisture, vibration, and odors. Ticks take around 24 hours to start feeding, so you might be able to catch them before they dine on your dog.

Preventive treatments

There are a number of treatments that can prevent your dog from getting bitten by ticks. They work by steadily releasing nontoxic components into your dog’s body that make it harder for ticks to get attached. Although the medicine won’t harm your dog, it does paralyze the ticks by attacking their nervous systems.

Before, the most common advice was to only treat your dog during the spring and summer months. Now veterinarians recommend preventive treatment all year round, because some species might still be active despite the cold temperatures.

Royer recommends monthly preventive treatments such as chewable tablets and topical ointments that go in between the shoulder blades. If you are looking for something that can protect your dog for a longer period of time, she recommends the Seresto collars, which can last up to eight months.

Be wary of miracle cures and collars sold in some grocery stores that don’t work. “Always talk to your veterinarian, and make sure to buy the preventive treatments from them or a recommended online pharmacy,” says Royer. A vet will help you avoid scams, and advise you if ticks in your area have become resistant to certain treatments.

What if I think my dog has ticks?

Depending on your level of comfort, you can either remove the ticks yourself or take your four-legged pal to the vet. Never crush a tick with your fingers; always use a proper tool. If you break the mouth of the tick in the process, and you can’t remove the bits, leave it alone and let the skin heal.

If your dog has a lot of swelling in the bite area, Royer says you shouldn’t try to touch it. Instead, take the pup to the vet so they can extract it.

How to remove a tick from your dog

  1. Use clean fine-tipped tweezers. Avoid putting things like vaseline, nail polish, or even trying to burn the tick off: It will do more harm than good.
  2. Get tweezers as close as possible to your dog’s skin, and pull upward steadily, with even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick in the process; that can make its mouth-parts break off.
  3. Fill a bag or container with alcohol, put the ticks in it, and seal it before throwing it away.
  4. Clean the bite area with alcohol.
  5. Wash your hands and disinfect them with alcohol.
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What if you have other dogs?

Make sure to remove all ticks from the affected dog, and start preventive treatment for all other pets as soon as possible. According to the University of Rhode Island, certain species of ticks — such as the American dog tick — can have up to three different hosts in a life cycle. So, “the more ticks spread around, the worse it’s going to get,” says Royer.

Can ticks make your dog sick?

Yes. Just like humans can contract illnesses from tick bites, dogs can too. But not all ticks carry disease: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that of the many different tick species in the world, only a select few bite and transmit diseases.

Here are some diseases that dogs can get from ticks in the Philly region:

  • Lyme disease is a bacterial illness that can make your dog have a fever, loss of appetite, less energy, stiffness, and joint pain. If left untreated, it can cause your pup to go into kidney failure or serious cardiac arrest.

  • Anaplasmosis can make your dog be lethargic, unwilling to eat, have a fever, bruises, and nose bleeds. If it’s not caught in time, it can cause respiratory failure, bleeding problems, or organ failure.

  • Ehrlichiosis disease causes your dog to lose weight, have a hard time breathing, have swollen lymph nodes, fever, blood disorders, and neurological problems. If untreated, your dog can develop life-threatening anemia.

Royer says that in her practice, she’s most commonly seen local dogs get Lyme disease, though she has also seen dogs with anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis disease from ticks. While these illnesses can be managed and cured, if left untreated can cause your dog to die.

Expert sources

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