Ticks can be bothersome, even dangerous, pests, but you can easily remove them if your pet does pick one up. Removing ticks safely and easily can help keep your pet comfortable and healthy, even if ticks are a nuisance.
Ticks are eight-legged parasites that bite through the skin and feed on the blood of their host. As a tick feeds, its body will swell dramatically, and one tick may stay on a host 5-14 days until it is fully engorged. Once finished feeding, the tick will naturally drop off.
Several species of ticks are common in North America, including deer ticks, dog ticks, and lone star ticks. These insects are most common in warmer climates, though they are seasonally active during the warmest months in nearly every region.
How Ticks Harm Pets – and Pet Owners!
While the blood loss from a feeding tick won’t be noticed by most pets, these parasites can carry a range of dangerous diseases including lyme disease, anaplasmosis, kidney disease, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Any outdoor pets – dogs, cats, rabbits, etc. – are susceptible to tick bites, and could develop symptoms such as skin irritation and rashes, itching, joint pain, lameness, fever, lethargy, vomiting, and anemia. If left untreated, the diseases ticks carry can easily be fatal to pets.
It is important for pet owners to realize that the diseases ticks carry can also infect humans. Any contact with the tick, its mouthparts, or infected blood can transmit these diseases. Therefore, it is imperative to remove ticks properly and safely to protect not only your pet, but yourself as well.
Removing ticks is not difficult but it does take care to be sure they are removed safely and completely, without causing further contamination or contagion. To remove a tick, you will need:
- Gloves or a tissue to cover your hands and prevent contact with the tick
- Tweezers or a special tick-removing tool (available at pet stores or veterinarian offices)
- A small, sealable container of rubbing alcohol
- An assistant to help with your pet
- Antibiotic ointment
As soon as you find a tick, it should be removed. Do not wait for the tick to become larger in order to see or grasp it more easily, as ticks can transmit diseases to your pet in as little as 3-4 hours after biting. Instead, you should remove ticks immediately. To do so:
- Hold your pet firmly, but calmly, or distract your pet so it is still and at ease as you remove the tick. An assistant can be useful to help control your pet while you remove the tick.
- Wearing the gloves or using the tissue to protect your hands, move your pet’s fur so you have a clear view of the tick and can easily see what you are doing.
- Grasp the tick firmly with the tweezers as close to your pet’s skin as possible, holding the tick by the head. If using a tick removal tool, slide the tool under the tick next to your pet’s skin.
- Pull the tick straight out in one smooth motion, but do not twist or wiggle, which could detach its mouthparts and leave them in your pet’s skin. Take great care not to pop the tick.
- Place the tick in the container with the rubbing alcohol to kill it, but do not discard the container. The tick’s body may be needed for identification if your pet develops symptoms.
- Treat your pet’s skin with antibiotic ointment, and wash your hands carefully with antibacterial soap (even after wearing gloves).
- Watch your pet closely for any signs of illness, and inspect the area where the tick was attached for any signs of redness, swelling, or infection. If you do note any symptoms, visit your veterinarian immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment. Take the dead tick along to your vet so the type can be determined, which can be helpful for diagnosis.
If you find a tick on your pet but aren’t comfortable with removing it yourself, take your pet to the veterinarian for assistance. Your vet or a vet technician can remove the tick, showing you how to do so safely and easily so you are prepared for any future ticks.
Because ticks can be dangerous to both pets and humans, it is wise to take steps to minimize the risk of ticks attaching themselves to your pet. There are easy ways to you can keep ticks away, including…
- Cleaning up leaf litter and brush in the yard, which can be homes for ticks.
- Mow grass more frequently to keep it shorter – long grass is more tick-friendly.
- Discourage rodents and wildlife such as rats, raccoons, and deer, all of which can carry ticks.
- Apply tick-repellent pesticides in your yard, following all instructions for proper application.
- Use collars, drops, powders, or tablets to keep your pet protected from ticks.
- Avoid walking or playing in long grass or wooded areas, particularly during the summer months.
- Vacuum frequently and wash bedding regularly to remove any invading ticks indoors.
Always be sure to check your pet for ticks after the animal has been outside. Check around their eyes and ears, between toes, around the tail, under the collar, and in areas of thinner fur between the hind legs and under the front legs, as these are areas where ticks are most likely to attach. Once you know how to remove a tick from your pet safely and easily, you can be prepared to eliminate any of these pests you may find.