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How to Treat Flea and Tick Bites in Dogs

Cute puppy scratching his neck

Photo Courtesy of Pet Assure.

Every dog owner knows that they don’t want their pet to get fleas or ticks. Insects like fleas and ticks don’t just cause harm to our pets though. Since both of the parasites feed on the blood of their hosts, they can carry one, or several, potential illnesses that can be harmful to humans. Fleas are known to transmit illnesses such as typhus and the plague. Ticks are best known as  transmitters of Lyme disease, but are also responsible for spreading spotted fever and relapsing fever. Keeping your dog flea and tick free is an essential part of being a good owner, but it's also an important health step to take to ensure your family stays happy and healthy as well. 

Unfortunately, sometimes fleas and ticks can’t be avoided. In these scenarios it's important to be able to quickly treat a flea or tick bite on your pet. Follow the steps below to learn how to clean and care for any bites your puppy might receive.

Big dog chewing on his back
If you see your dog biting, scratching or chewing the same spot, it's a good indication there’s a tick.Image Caption Image Courtesy of Stinky Stuff.

How Do You Know If Your Dog Has A Bug?

Signs That Your Dog Has Fleas or Ticks

If you see your dog doing any of the following, it is a sign that they may have a tick.

If you see them licking or chewing over and over again at a particular area on their body. This is a good indication there is something located in that area that is irritating them. If you go to check the area and you notice that their skin is red, irritated, or inflamed, it is a good indication there is a tick buried nearby. An unusual scab around the irritated area is also a good indication that there is a tick. Additionally, it's important to check your dog's ears if you notice them shaking their head an abnormal amount as ticks will often crawl into a dogs ear and latch on.

Additionally, if you notice other symptoms in your dog's behavior, they are a good indication there’s a tick present. If your dog appears anemic or lacking in energy this can indicate a tick that has drained too much blood or given your dog a disease. Dogs that have ticks often will have pale gums and become lethargic. Lyme disease is also known to cause fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy in dogs so keep on eye on their emotional behavior.

Although ticks are quite a bit bigger than fleas, it is actually quite a bit easier to tell if your dog has fleas. Fleas are only about an eighth of an inch long, but they’re still perfectly visible if you can track them down. So if you see your dog biting, chewing, or scratching more than normal, you should definitely take a look in their fur. Fleas are a brown/reddish-brown color and very thin. If you see bugs that fit this description on your pet, they’re almost guaranteed to be fleas. Even if you don’t catch them on your pet, there are other signs that they’re around. “Flea dirt” can be left behind by your pet in the places they like to lay. This flea dirt is actually small spots of dried blood that form every time the fleas bite your dog to feed. This dried blood will fall off your dog and if you notice around the places they like to nap and sleep then this is a good indication your pet has a flea infestation.

If you notice any of these signs, take a look at your dog's skin. If you see small raised red dots on them, these are probably flea bites. Be sure to check their neck, back, and belly in particular as that is where fleas are mostly common to be on your pet. 

Tick om a leaf
Ticks spend most of their time about 18-24 inches off the ground. Perfect dog height. 

So Your Pet Has A Pest?

Where Did They Come From?

After you’ve identified if your pet has a tick or flees you’ll probably be wondering where they came from. One of the most common ways that your pet gets fleas or a tick is from running around outside. Ticks in particular are common after a dog has been walking around in high grass or in a wooded area. Ticks are commonly found about a foot and a half to two feet up off the ground. Ticks spend a lot of time at this level which just so happens to be the perfect height to hop onto anything from a small dog to a full grown husky.

Fleas on the other hand can come from just about anywhere. Fleas are spread by other animals. After the female ticks get full of blood they are able to lay eggs. When the animal that has the eggs laid on it runs around the neighborhood, the dog park, or your kennel/groomer, the eggs fall off of them. When the eggs hatch the new fleas look for a new host to live on. That is how they end up on your pet

Additionally, your dog can get fleas even if they never leave your yard. Dogs and cats aren’t the only animals that have fleas. Plenty of wild animals, switch as deers, squirrels, and rabbits have fleas as well. These fleas also lay eggs that fall off, or even leap from the animals into the grass looking for a new host. Because of this your dog can get fleas from simply going outside to do their business. Even if your dog never leaves your house they can still end up with fleas. If your friends or relatives have any pets with fleas at home when they come to visit the fleas can hop a ride over to your pet on them.

fleas on a dogs skin
Separate your dogs fur to get a close look at their skin when searching for fleas. Image Caption Photo Courtesy of Close Veterinary Clinic.

What Happens When Your Dog Gets Bitten?

Itchiness, Irritation, and Redness Result From Bug Bites.

The red bumps that appear on your dog from a flea bite are actually an allergic reaction. Because of this, the medications or ointments you apply should be ones that suppress allergic reactions such as antihistamines. However, you can also treat the bites on your dog with a variety of natural homemade remedies. Most of these can be done with everyday items you can find around the house. Giving your dog an oat bath can do a lot to relieve the itching and scratching that is caused by the allergic reaction to the bites. Coconut oil can also be applied to any areas on your dog that appear to be particularly bothersome as it reduces allergic reactions as well. Aloe vera can also be used to spot treat any severely itchy spots on your dog, but don’t put it anywhere that they can lick it off. Aloe vera is mildly toxic for dogs so it can make them ill.

Tick bites are a bit more difficult to treat. This is because the ticks burrow into the dog and bite for a long time, up to several hours to even a few days. When you locate a tick on your dog, the first thing you should do is find a pair of gloves and some tweezers to remove it with. Put your gloves on, (ticks can spread disease to humans too!) make sure your tweezers are clean, and then pull your dog's hair away from where the tick is. Carefully clamp down around the tick. Make sure not to grip too tight and puncture the insect as you don’t want to release diseases or pathogens onto your dog or yourself. Once you have a hold of the tick, pull it straight out from your dog's skin without twisting. Once the tick is off the dog put it in a bag or container and clean the wound with rubbing alcohol and put some ointment on the wound. Finally, call your vet so they can inspect the tick and make any testing recommendations.

little puppy scratching his neck
Always check your dogs back and neck for fleas as it's one of their favorite places.

Remember that fleas and ticks are an unfortunate part of owning a pet. Whenever your dog has a parasite or bug, particularly the ones that feed on blood, you should contact a veterinarian and deal with the pest as soon as possible. Bugs that feed on blood can carry pathogens that cause serious health issues not only for you and your pet, but also your friends and family.

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