Ticks are small creatures that are mostly found lurking in grassy areas. They are parasites ( which means they require a host to feed from). Ticks can also pick up disease from one mammalian host and then pass it onto another (like dogs!).
Ticks start out as small, oval and flat ( about the size of a sesame seed) when unfed, but once completely engorged with blood, they grow to the size and shape of a coffee bean! They look for hosts to latch onto, by climbing to the top of a long blade of grass and waiting (a behaviour known as 'questing') for passing mammalian traffic (dogs!)
Ticks aren't just pests that feast on your dog and cause him or her to itch; they can also be carriers of some serious diseases. UK ticks can carry a devastating condition called Lyme disease caused by bacteria, which affects both muscle and nerve cells. Dogs may experience intermittent lameness, fever and lethargy while humans may show a rash, joint pain, fever, and headaches. If incorrectly diagnosed, or left untreated, it can result in an extremely serious debilitating chronic illness with lifelong complications. In humans it is, unfortunately, a difficult disease to diagnose but in dogs, it is even more difficult, so prevention against ticks is of vital importance.
Whilst I started this post by saying that it was "that time of the year again", and ticks are commonly more active in summer, don't be fooled into thinking they're just a warm weather problem; they can, in fact, be found in your dog's environment anytime throughout the year!
There are many safe products on the market to prevent ticks: from spot-ons and sprays, to special collars impregnated with substances that infiltrate into the fatty layer in your dog's skin, killing ticks when they attempt to feed and get their first mouthful of anti-parasitically treated blood. I personally use frontline. Even so it's a good idea, on returning home, especially from areas such as parks and woodlands, to check all over your dog's body for signs of any visitors.
Ticks can be dangerous for any age of dog and any breed so it's important to know what to do if you spot one on your pooch :-) The most important thing is don't panic and resist the urge to just pull it straight off. This would be extremely painful for your dog so ticks always need to be removed slowly and carefully, otherwise embedded mouth parts can be left behind. Or if ticks are 'stressed' - poked and prodded, burnt with a flame, or, as is commonly done, covered in Vaseline to suffocate them - the ticks may regurgitate their bloody meal back into their host along with any disease they're carrying! Gross right! So we definitely don't want to do any of that! :-)
If you find any ticks on your dog, they must be removed, however if done incorrectly, mouth parts left inside your dog could result in a local tissue reaction, inflammation and infection often requiring antibiotics, or even surgical removal. There are plenty of good and inexpensive tick removing tools out there. A quick google search will reveal most of them :-)