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Ticks on a Dog’s Ears: What You Should Know

Ticks on a dog's ear rolling around in the field
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Ticks are gross, dangerous and they can easily crawl from pets to humans and infect the whole family with diseases. Tick checks are relatively easy to do on people, but embedded ticks on dogs are much harder to spot. Worse, the places ticks tend to embed themselves on dogs are often the places with the most sensitive skin, including the ears and groin. Your dog’s sensitive ears require a unique approach when it comes to monitoring for and removing ticks.

The Dangers of Ear Ticks on Dogs

Ticks on a dog's ears while they are running through long grass in the forest

Usually, dogs get ticks by going outside. Ticks wait on blades of grass, shrubs and even trees to attach themselves to passing animals. When your dog walks by, the tick senses them and jumps aboard. Dogs who hike, hunt, or live near the woods are at higher risk for ticks but any dog who goes outside can be bitten by a tick. 

Once a tick has landed on your dog, it can be hard to tell what a tick looks like on a dog. They often look for a warm safe place to hide and embed themselves. Some common places include arm and leg pits, between the toes, under the collar, and the ears. 

While ticks do embed everywhere on dogs, ears are among the most common places. Whether floppy or erect there are plenty of nooks and crannies in a dog’s ear for ticks to hide and make themselves comfortable. Ear ticks on dogs are only a bigger risk than any other location if they embed in a dog’s ear canal. A tick in this location is especially difficult to find and can lead to ear infections and even deafness. Because ears are sensitive and they tend to bleed easily, it is important to take extra precautions when removing a tick from a dog’s ear.

ticks on a dog's ears owner helping to remove tick from dog

All ticks are dangerous because they can carry diseases, but different types of ticks carry different diseases. While Lyme disease is often the most well known tick-borne illness, there are many other diseases spread by ticks including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, tick paralysis and Alpha-gal (the disease that makes humans allergic to red meat). In some cases, it only takes a few hours for ticks to transmit disease to dogs. 

At first, these diseases mostly cause vague symptoms in dogs such as tiredness, soreness and a decreased appetite. However, some dogs get much sicker and can suffer consequences like kidney failure, blood problems, paralysis and even death. That is why it is very important to use effective tick prevention and also monitor your dog for ticks closely. 

How to Tell if Your Dog Has Ear Ticks

Dog shaking head because of ticks on a dog's ears

Your dog can have a tick on their ear and never show any signs that it’s there. Some dogs will shake their heads or scratch at their ears because of an embedded ear tick while others will not. These are also signs of an ear infection, so if you have looked carefully for a tick and can’t find one then your dog should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. 

It is a good idea to check your dog’s ears and their whole body for ticks after all outings with high tick exposure such as hiking, hunting, or a walk at the park. Risk is highest in summer and fall but ticks can be active all year-round. 

Owners inspecting pet dog to see if there are ticks on a dog's ears

Using your hands as much as your eyes, slowly and carefully look and feel all over your dog for any lumps or bumps that weren’t there before. Spread the hair over any area you feel a bump and visually inspect it for a dark red, brown, or black dot. Turn the ears over to feel and look on both sides. Look as far into the ear canal as you can. Spread your dogs toes and look on the top and bottom of the feet. This process may take some time if your dog has long or very thick hair. 

Ticks range in size from a pinpoint to raisin. Before a tick feeds it will feel mostly flat and hard. At this stage they look and feel like a small scab. Adult ticks have eight legs that you may notice moving. Their head is small relative to the rest of the body and the head will actually embed in your dog’s skin. As a tick feeds it becomes engorged, meaning the back part of the tick will swell to many times its original size. Engorged ticks look gray, light brown, or beige.

How to Remove Ticks From a Dog’s Ears 

Giving dog a treat so they will remain calm

Removing ear ticks on dogs is similar to removing a tick anywhere else on a dog’s body but with a few important differences. A dog’s ears are very sensitive and many dogs don’t appreciate their ears being messed with. When your dog and your household are calm, sit with your dog and offer treats for touching their ear. If your dog does not cooperate with you by staying still willingly, let your veterinarian remove the tick. It is not worth risking injury to yourself, your dog, or the bond between you. 

Ticks can be removed with tweezers or with any specially-designed tick removal tools (this article will only focus on removing ticks with tweezers). It is imperative to remove the entire tick including the head and mouth parts. If left behind, they can continue to transmit disease to your dog as well as cause a painful skin infection. If you are unsure whether you removed the entire tick including the head, draw a circle around the area with a pet-safe marker, and have your dog examined by a veterinarian. 

If you have any concerns at any point in the process, call your veterinarian. They may recommend bringing your dog in for tick removal or be able to coach you through the process in more detail.

If the tick is embedded in the ear canal do not attempt to remove it yourself. In that situation your veterinarian must be the one to remove it as you risk severely injuring your dog.

Tools Required for Tick Removal

Tools required for removal of ticks on a dog's ears
  • Rubber or disposal gloves
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Cotton ball or cotton swab
  • Clean tweezers
  • Small bowl or cup
  • Phone or camera
  • Pet-safe (non-toxic) marker

Instructions to Remove a Tick from a Dog’s Ear

Taking photo of dog

Step 1: Take a picture of the tick from both its top and bottom (if your dog becomes ill, your veterinarian will want to know what kind of tick bit your dog). Then, draw a 2-inch circle around the tick with a pet-safe marker. This way if you do not completely remove the tick, your veterinarian will know where to look.

Step 2: Wearing gloves, hold your dog’s ear firmly with your non-dominant hand. Use your other hand to separate the hair on the ear and rub the skin around the tick with rubbing alcohol using a cotton ball or cotton swab. Rub the cotton ball or swab directly on the tick as well.

Step 3: Keeping the hair parted around the tick, grasp its head with the tweezers as close as possible to the skin and slowly but firmly pull away from the skin without twisting. 

Step 4: Place the tick in the bowl or cup and photograph it again, as close up as you can. Then pour rubbing alcohol over it to cover it completely. This will kill the tick. 

Cotton ball in a dog's ear

Step 5: Using a fresh cotton ball or cotton swab, clean the area on your dog’s ear again with rubbing alcohol.

Step 6: Toss the tick into the toilet and flush. Throw away all of the disposable items. 

Step 7: Rinse the tweezers with rubbing alcohol and allow them to dry before cleaning with soap and water.

Step 8: Check your dog’s ears once more for ticks and repeat the above process if you find more.

How to Prevent Your Dog from Getting Ear Ticks

Flea and tick prevention

The best way to prevent your dog from getting ear ticks is to keep them on effective tick and flea control all year long. Your veterinarian will have several prescription options that are safe, effective and easy to use. The type of prevention you use is a personal choice, so consider not only the efficacy of a product but also the safety for your particular pet and the ease of administration. 

Collars, topicals, or oral tick prevention should be provided to your dog year-round. Some ticks are active during the winter, so protect your dog by using tick prevention year round.”

Check your dog for ticks after every adventure in the woods or around tall grass. Be sure to look on both sides of the ear and as deep into the canal as you can. Keep your dog off furniture and bedding until you are sure you have removed any ticks, even dead ones.