How To Remove A Tick From Your Dog Or Cat

It can happen to any pet who loves the great outdoors — and doesn't have to be scary 🐕🐈🌳

During the warm summer months, our dogs can be found happily tromping through tall grass or woods, but the fear of finding a tick on your pup when he returns can make many a pet owner paranoid.

Learning how to remove ticks from dogs and cats safely can ease pet parents’ anxiety over coming face-to-face with this bloodsucker — so nobody has to miss out on the nice weather.

Dogs, like humans, are vulnerable to Lyme disease, as well as other tick-borne ailments such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, so it’s important to perform regular tick checks every time your dog returns from playing near wooded areas, advises Dr. Lee Herold, chief medical officer at DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, Oregon.

“Ideally, pets should be checked for ticks any time they’ve been outside, especially if they’ve been out hiking or walking in a wooded areas or tall grass,” Dr. Herold tells The Dodo. “Most often ticks are picked up in rural areas, latching onto pets and people as they walk through brushes or tall grass, but it’s not unheard of for animals to attract ticks in an urban setting as well.” Over the past three decades, cases of Lyme disease have increased and spread across the U.S., meaning vigilance during the spring, summer and fall will be key to your pet’s health.

A thick coat can hide pesky parasites that could be latching on to your pup. To thoroughly check your pet for ticks, start by running your fingers from the top of their head all over the body, feeling for any suspicious small bumps or lumps, advises Dr. Herold. Ticks can range from the size of the head of a pin to up to 15 millimeters long, the approximate size of a jelly bean. When inspecting your pet, pay special attention to the area around their tail, face and chin, as well as any creases and crevices such as the space between your dog’s toes, behind and inside the ears and their armpits, as ticks prefer to hide in warm, dark areas on an animal’s body.

“It’s easy to give them an overall check when you are relaxing together on the floor or the couch at the end of the day,” Dr. Herold says. “Even if you are using a tick prevention medicine or collar, you should still check for ticks on a regular basis.”

If you trace over a bump, or notice a red or irritated area that your pet is licking or scratching, part your dog’s fur to get a better look. A tick will usually appear brown or black in color, or light gray if it’s engorged. It takes 24 hours for a tick to transfer disease-causing bacteria to its host, so pet owners should remove the tick as soon as they spot it, and dispose of it correctly so it doesn’t pose additional issues down the road.

Follow these easy steps to remove a tick safely and precisely at home:

1. Grab the tweezers and gloves

You may have heard of alternative ways to remove ticks, such as burning them with matches or applying nail polish or Vaseline, but tweezers are the only way to go when it comes to safely and quickly removing these parasites.

To remove the tick with the most accuracy and control, use fine-tip tweezers, instead of ones with a slanted tip. Hold the tweezers horizontally across the tick, grasping it as close to the skin of your pet’s body as possible without pinching your pup. Herold recommends wearing gloves during this process “to prevent the tick from coming into contact with your skin.”

2. Pull the entire tick straight out

With steady hands, pull gently upward, and try to remove the entirety of the parasite in one motion. Twisting or jerking the tick may cause parts of its head to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, don’t sweat! Simply remove anything left behind with clean tweezers. “If you’re using a tick remover, press it against your pet’s skin near the tick and slide the notch of the remover under the tick until it’s caught,” Herold says.

Do not squeeze the tick or crush it in the removal process, as any traumatic force may cause the tick to transmit even more bacteria. Instead, apply even pressure with the tweezers as you lift.

3. Clean your pet's skin

Disinfect the bite area with a topical antiseptic such as rubbing alcohol or an iodine rinse, and cleanse the skin with soap and warm water, Dr. Herold advises. Once the tick is gone and the area is clean, your pet’s skin can begin to heal.

4. Save the tick

While some pet parents may be tempted to flush the tick down the toilet, Herold recommends holding on to the parasite. “Store the tick in a small container of alcohol so it can be identified and tested if your dog shows signs of a tick-borne illness,” Herold says. A tick in a jar may not be the most attractive decoration, but it will come in handy should your pup start to experience any unusual symptoms over the following weeks.

5. Watch your pet for any changes

After the tick has been removed, dog owners should watch their pets for any changes in behavior or unusual physical reactions. Lyme disease, the most common illness carried by ticks, can lead to symptoms such as a rash around the area, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, swelling joints and temporary paralysis of parts of the body, according to Dr. Herold.

Similar symptoms are present with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, with the addition of vomiting, coughing, difficulty breathing, pale gums, bruising and nosebleeds.

If you notice your pet showing signs of any of these symptoms, immediately head over to your primary or emergency veterinarian for evaluation and treatment. (And don’t forget to bring that tick!)