How to Remove a Tick From a Dog
Removing Ticks From Dogs
Poor Rover. Your dog was outside playing and now he has a tick or even several of them attached to him. What should you do? Let the tick continue to feed and hope it falls off on its own? Or, should you try to remove it? You aren’t sure you want to touch it, but you sure don’t want to leave it and you don’t want to hurt your dog.
Don’t worry. There is a safe and easy way to remove these nasty parasites. But first, some background information.
What Are Ticks?
Ticks are members of the spider family. These external parasites feed on the blood of birds and mammals, which would be bad enough on its own. The real problem is that they can carry and transmit a host of “vector-borne” diseases including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis. Birds actually help to disperse ticks, thus spreading these diseases even further.
Ticks are quite small when they have not been feeding on a host’s blood, and are usually only about 1 to 5 mm in length. They begin their life as an egg and then hatch into larva. From there, they turn into what is called a nymph before finally reaching adulthood. All stages except the egg stage—larva, nymph and adult—feed on blood. Ticks do not fly, but they are capable of crawling onto tall grass and weeds to await their victims. A dog or a human being wandering through tall grass represents an opportunity for a meal (see photo below).
Checking for Ticks
Ticks will crawl onto a person’s shoe or sock, or onto a dog’s face, and begin searching for a place to attach. A dog’s head and face are common sites for them to attach because a dog's head is the first part of the dog to go plowing through tall grass. Even the hairiest of dogs usually have smoother, shorter fur on their faces, making it easier for the tick to attach. Eye lids and ears are also common targets.
It can take up to a few hours for the tick to find the perfect spot on its host to attach and begin to feed. Once they attach, they will stay in place for a long time, often days. For this reason, it is important to inspect your pet after every trip outdoors, especially if you have been walking in long grass or bushy areas. Don't forget to check yourself too.
What Is Lyme Disease?
As noted above, ticks can carry and then transmit several very serious parasitic diseases. In fact, they are second only to mosquitoes as vectors of human diseases (Companion Animal Parasite Council).
Lyme disease, once thought to occur only in areas where deer were present, is now widespread and is found in all 50 U.S. states and every province in Canada. A warmer climate may be at least partly responsible for the population explosion in the “black-legged tick” or “deer tick”. In some areas of Canada, 10 to 50 per cent of black-legged ticks now carry Lyme bacteria. Cases of Lyme occur every year in humans—even in urban areas.
In humans, Lyme disease often presents as a “bulls eye” rash, and sometimes people don’t even know they have been bitten until they see the rash. In dogs, Lyme may present as swollen joints, fever and lameness. Often your pet may just not seem to be quite themselves.
How to Protect Against Lyme Disease
There are steps you can take to protect both yourself and your dog from ticks and the diseases they carry. When you are outside, especially in long grass, wear long pants and tuck your pant legs into your socks or boots. Examine yourself and others you are with for any signs of these insects crawling on your clothing. For your dog:
- Use a preventative tick and flea treatment.
- Check your dog after every trip outdoors.
- There is a vaccine available for Lyme disease, so you might want to consider that for your pet if you live in an area known to have a large infestation.
- Have your dog tested annually for all parasites.
- Watch for signs of infection or bumps that indicate that your dog has been bitten.
How to Remove Ticks From Dogs
Tweezers are still used by many folks for removing ticks. The problem with tweezers is that people often end up crushing the insect or pulling them apart because the tweezers aren’t in the correct spot. This can mean that the head and mouth remain attached to your dog.
Squeezing them can also inject more bacteria into the dog, which is not what you want of course. A proper tick remover is a much more effective tool and is far easier to use. There are a few different types on the market and they are typically sold in packages of two or three.
The most common ticks in Canada and the northern part of the United States don't push their mouthparts in to the point their heads are buried. Some species of these pests that are more common to the southern United States attach quite deeply, burying their heads so they are quite hard to remove.
How to Use a Tick Remover
Slide the claw of the tool under the tick. This is just like using the claw of a hammer to remove a nail. The trick is to make sure the claw is right underneath the tick, so that it is right at the end of the slot in the tool, as far as it will go. Slowly twirl the tool around and around – you don’t need to pull it, just spin it around. The tick will usually come right off after a few spins.
Put it in a plastic bag along with a cotton ball that is slightly damp. If it is still alive and is waving its legs around, you likely got the whole thing off without leaving any mouthparts or the head embedded in the dog’s flesh. If it is dead and not waving its legs, you likely missed a part or two, but don’t worry. The dog will be OK. The site is just more likely to become infected, so keep an eye on things and make a trip to the vet if necessary. If you are concerned about the possibility of Lyme, you should take the live tick to your vet to be tested.
Disinfect the site of the bite with a little soap and warm water. You can also apply a little Polysporin. Bites will leave a welt that can take several weeks to shrink; often a dog will be left with a scar, especially if the bite gets infected or scabs up. If the dog seems itchy at the site, you can also put a little Caladryl ointment on it as long as you can be sure the dog won’t lick at it.
Using a Tick Remover
What About My Cat?
Follow the same instructions as for a dog to safely remove a tick from a cat.
- Companion Animal Parasite Council
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2012 Kaili Bisson