Sam, a 12 year old cross-bred Terrier whose leg was very painful, for no obvious reason.

Last autumn, Sam was jumping out of the car after a walk, when he seemed to knock or twist his right hind leg. He yelped, and then refused to put any weight on the leg. He started to walk on three legs, not even touching his right hind leg to the ground. Andy checked him over, but there was no obvious injury or cut. He thought that perhaps Sam had bruised it or sprained a joint.

When Sam was still carrying the leg the next day, it was obviously something more complicated than a mild injury, so Andy brought him in to see me.

I examined Sam carefully, flexing and extending his joints, trying to pinpoint the source of the pain. He was calm and relaxed until I reached his foot, and every time I touched this area, he yelped and whimpered, pulling his foot away. This was obviously the painful area, and I was concerned that there might be something seriously wrong. Could he have an underlying bone disease that had caused a crack or a fracture of a foot bone as he jumped out of the car? In an older dog, there are a number of conditions that can weaken the bones, including cancer. I gave him a sedative so that he’d lie still while I took an x-ray to rule this out.

The xray showed that there was nothing sinister going on. Sam had arthritis in his ankle joint, but this is common in twelve year old dogs, and it wasn’t severe enough to cause him to be so lame. So what was going on? Why was he so sore?

Now that he was sedated, it was easier to examine his painful foot in more detail. I could now check on the inside of his leg, which had been too sore to look at when he was awake. When I did this, I found something odd: he had a tick attacked to his skin in this area, hidden under his long fur. A tick does not normally cause pain or lameness, but still, this was an intriguing finding. I used a special tick removing hook to extract it properly from Sam’s skin, then gave him the antidote to the sedative.

As he gradually woke up, I used gentle finger pressure to try to pinpoint the precise area that was painful. To my surprise, there was no doubt about it: Sam’s pain was focussed on the exact site of the tick bite. When I pressed his foot around the bite, there was no reaction, but when I just gently touched the area where the tick had been attached, he pulled his foot away and whimpered.

One of the interesting aspects of the job of a vet is that there are always new and surprising twists in our daily work. I’ve seen many dogs with ticks, and I’ve never before seen a dramatic pain reaction like Sam’s. I’ve seen tick bites cause pain when they become red and swollen with infection, but this had not happened in Sam’s case. The area of the tick bite looked normal, yet it was definitely very painful.

I’m still not sure of the reason for Sam’s pain. Was the tick bite directly over a nerve? Had the tick introduced a brewing bacterial infection that was causing throbbing pain? I treated him with potent pain relief and antibiotics, and he improved rapidly, returning to normal within 48 hours.

Sam has also been treated with an anti-tick insecticide in an attempt to prevent further ticks from attaching to him. We’re just heading into the autumn tick season, and one painful tick bite is more than enough for poor Sam to endure.


  • Ticks are common in the autumn months
  • The site of a tick bite is often itchy, but rarely painful

1 Comment

  • Jana Rade says:

    Quite interesting, isn’t it? So it happens that the first ever tick Jasmine got was discovered by following signs of pain. It got onto her ear. She suddenly started whimpering, tilting her head to a side and lowering that ear to the ground. So we immediately went looking for what happened and found a tick. Apparently it really hurt her too.

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