How to Know if a Dog's Tick Bite Is Infected

Have you ever settled down to cuddle with your dog, only to discover a suspicious-feeling bump in his coat? Because dogs spend so much time outdoors, it's only natural that at some point you'll have to deal with removing a tick from your dog. The actual process of removing a tick isn't too complicated, but because ticks can transmit diseases to dogs, it's important to monitor the tick bite site and know how to spot signs of trouble.

Woman cuddling with her dog
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The initial tick bite

Ticks latch onto your dog by biting through her skin, and then they feed on your pup's blood. If you feel a bump in your dog's fur, pull the fur apart to see if the bump is a tick. As ticks feed, their bodies become engorged; they can vary from the size of a pinhead to the size of a grape. Most ticks are black or dark brown, and you may be able to see the tick's legs while it's attached to your dog.

It's essential to remove a tick quickly since ticks can transmit disease to your dog within 3-to-6 hours of a bite. To remove a tick, use tweezers or a tick scoop, and pull the tick out by the head, rather than its body. Use a firm upward motion to remove the tick, and try not to leave any body parts in your dog.

If you haven't removed a tick before, or have questions about how to do it properly, it's best to head to your vet's office. Your vet can show you how to properly remove a tick to reduce the chance of transmitting a disease to your dog in the process.

Signs of trouble

The area of a tick bite will probably appear a bit red or irritated at first. After you've removed the tick, double-check that no parts of the tick remain in your dog. Then, wash the area with warm, soapy water and treat it with an antiseptic cream to help prevent infection.

You should monitor the tick bite over the next several days since it's possible for the site to become infected. Look for common signs of infection such as inflammation or a rash in the area of the bite. Your dog may also display fatigue or muscle pain, which can be caused by a reaction to the tick's saliva.

If you notice any of these signs, take your dog to your vet. Your vet will probably prescribe an antibiotic and may decide to test your dog for Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases.

Additional concerns

If it's been a week since a tick bit your dog and the site is looking good, you may think you're in the clear. However, there are a host of tick-borne diseases transmissible to dogs such as Lyme disease, Canine Anaplasmosis, Canine Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The tick bite site may be healing up, but you should still monitor your dog.

Each tick-borne disease has slightly different symptoms, but in general, watch for your dog to develop lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, lameness or limping, or unusual fatigue. If you notice that your dog is acting strangely, take him to the vet and be sure to mention any recent tick bites. If you can, provide information about just when the bite occurred, as well as the type of tick (if you could identify it). This information can help your vet more quickly diagnose your dog and get him the treatment he needs to start feeling better.

In most cases, your dog will be just fine after a tick bite. You can reduce your pup's chances of being bitten by using regular flea and tick treatments and by checking your dog over thoroughly after going for a walk or playing outside. Talk to your vet about any other recommended best practices for preventing ticks in your area.