How to protect your pet from ticks

How to protect your pet from ticks

Whilst fleas may be the most widespread external parasite of a dogs skin, ticks have the potential to be the most harmful. Ticks will crawl between the fur, bite into the skin, feed on the blood, and potentially cause a painful localised dermatitis, but this is not the biggest hazard. Ticks are considered ‘vectors’ of infectious diseases, having the potential of carrying and transmitting a whole host of different pathogens directly to the dog.

Vet and WVS International Veterinary Manager, Dr Ben Howitt, provides advice for protecting your pets from ticks.

When is best to treat your pet

Many ticks perish before reaching adulthood, either because they are unable to latch onto a host or they are unable to shelter appropriately through the winter months. Those that have suitably fed and undergo transformation into the next life-stage will suddenly jump into action as the temperature increases. Spring through to summer is when tick numbers in long grasses are at their highest. However, mild winter temperatures may still see tick activity throughout the winter. Therefore, tick treatment should be prioritised throughout the start of spring until the end of autumn. However, in high risk areas, rural environments, or countries where there is not great seasonal variation or fluctuation, year round treatment is highly recommended.

Types of treatments

Products and treatment plans should be discussed with your veterinary professional, but it is important to note the different treatment options that you may have available:

Topical spot-ons: These are the most widespread and consist of a monthly dose placed between the fur on the skin behind the neck. The active drug is then absorbed and dispersed beneath the skin.

Tick Collars: These have become very popular and function with the slow-release of the active agent. They are simple to use, but they might not be sufficient alone at preventing tick attachment in high-risk areas.

Shampoos: these are considered useful immediately after a walk, but the majority of these products do not have a duration of action longer that 24-48 hours.

Some owners may use a combination of the above depending on the seasonal variation in active tick numbers. However, it is important to check with your veterinarian prior to employing this plan yourself so as to ensure that doses and drugs are compatible between the different products.

Important to know

  • Tick treatments are invaluable in tick prevention, but should never be considered 100% effective. During summer months it is important to remain vigilant and check your dogs coat regularly.

  • The most common places that ticks may hide are behind the ears, under the jaw, on the neck, between the legs, around the tail, and between the toes.

  • Whilst transmission of disease is not often immediate, and it can take 24-48 hours after the initial bite to transfer any pathogen - prompt removal is important.

  • Remove a tick by carefully using ‘tick-removers’ sold at all vet clinics and pet stores. Alternatively, if using tweezers, firmly grasp the tick as close to the pet's skin as possible and pulling the tick gently and steadily without twisting or crushing it during removal.

  • Do not try to suffocate the tick with alcohol or vaseline, or apply a hot match to it, as this can cause the tick to regurgitate saliva into the wound and increase the risk of disease transmission.

  • If there is any concern after you have removed a tick, seek advice from your veterinary professional.

The life-cycle of the tick

In order to become a fully-fledged adult tick, they must go through four stages of life; egg, larvae, nymph, and adult. At each particular stage, the tick must obtain a full feed of blood in order to maximise its growth potential and reach the subsequent stage. The full life-cycle may take up to 2-3 years, and they will require a different animal host at each stage. Some tick species will prefer one species of host, others will choose a whole range of mammals, birds, or reptiles.

Understanding the life-cycle of a tick will help in managing and treating against them:


Adult females will lay their eggs in the spring, often associated with where their desired host roams or sleeps so that access is immediate. This may include nests or well-trodden trails.


Tick larvae are not worms or maggots, they have 6 legs and already take on somewhat of the shape of an adult tick. Upon hatching, the larvae (whom are free of disease at hatching) typically feed on small hosts. This first feed can expose the tick to infectious pathogens that their chosen host may be carrying e.g. Lymes disease. The larvae then become a carrier, and upon finishing their feed, will detach and continue to develop for the next few months, sheltering on the host or in leaf litter/nests.


The larvae often transition into Nymphs over the winter period, and upon the following Spring they become active, seeking out larger hosts e.g. deer and cattle. Nymphs now have 8 legs, and will often crawl to the top of long grass to wait to latch onto any host that may walk through. The Nymphs that became carriers of disease at the larval stage can then transmit these onto their new hosts, as well as pick up new pathogens they may come across when feeding.


The transition from nymph to adult will often occur over winter again. As adults, the ticks will mate after feeding which often results in the male ticks dying off. The adult females will then lay thousands of eggs in the early spring as the temperature starts to increase, allowing for greater survivability.

At our International Training Centres and outreach projects around the world, we treat animals who have often never received veterinary care before in their lives. Without access to preventative treatments, we see a number of animals suffering with severe tick infestations and tick borne diseases. The image shows a young dog who received treatment from WVS vets in Malawi, Africa.

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