What to do when you find a tick on your pet

If your pet spends a lot of time outdoors, you are probably intimately familiar with scanning and removing ticks from them. If they are mostly indoors but pick one up from a walk or while rolling around in the yard, it can be an upsetting and slightly unsettling process. The good news is that it’s fairly easy to remove a tick on your own without getting your vet involved.

In certain parts of the country, ticks are a problem all year round. In others, there are certain months of the year when pet owners need to be more alert and check their dog or cat more often to prevent ticks from burrowing into their skin. The problem, if this happens, is that ticks can transmit infectious diseases, such as Lyme disease, which can cause big problems in dogs and cats if left untreated.

tick on human hand
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What to do first

It’s a good idea to do a tick check on your dog or cat after they’ve been outside, particularly if it’s a heavily wooded area. Run your fingers slowly over your pet’s entire body. This means in between toes, in the flaps of their ears, and near their eyes. Ticks love warm, hidden spots, so make sure you are thorough. If you feel a bump or swollen area, pull back their fur and check to see if a tick has burrowed.

Ticks can be black, brown, or tan; they have eight legs; and they can be of various shapes and sizes. Not all ticks are visible to the human eye (some can be the size of a pinhead), so if you are worried you’ve missed one, take a magnifying glass over their fur as well.

Here’s how to remove a tick from a dog or how to remove a tick from a cat.

Get your tools

In order to safely remove a tick, you’ll need a few things to make sure it’s a sanitary process and you aren’t unknowingly leaving room for infection or bacteria to get into your pet’s system (or your own). Find rubber gloves, clean tweezers, disinfectant or antiseptic cream, isopropyl alcohol, and a small jar or container to put the tick(s) in. Put the alcohol in the container and label it with the date in case your dog or cat starts showing symptoms of Lyme disease, like fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, etc. This way, you can bring it to the vet, and they can quickly identify the type of tick and a treatment plan.

person removing tick with tweezers
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Remove the tick

Grab the tweezers and grasp the tick as close to your dog’s skin as possible. Pull the tick out very slowly in a straight, steady motion. You can also buy a tick remover if your dog or cat has frequent ticks. If you’re using that, gently press the device against your pet’s skin near the tick, slide the notch of the remover under the tick, and pull the tick off your pet’s skin. It may take a minute or two of constant gentle pulling before the tick lets go, but it’s critical to go slowly.

If the tick appears blood-engorged and you think it’s been on your pet’s skin for a few days, call your vet so they can effectively remove it. They may want to test the bug for infections as well. It’s important to get the entire tick removed, and if you’re concerned at all, your vet is a safe bet.

walking in woods tick sign
Heiko Barth/Shutterstock

Aftercare

Once the entire tick is removed, put on rubber gloves and clean the removal area with a disinfectant or antiseptic cream. Your pet may not love this part, but it’s critical to ensuring the area is clean and free from bacteria. You can also use warm water and soap and gently wash the area. Again, if your pet develops any of the symptoms above, it’s best to call your vet right away and have them tested for Lyme disease.

There are a number of tick collars, shampoos, medications, and sprays on the market that can help prevent your pet from getting ticks, but nothing is 100% effective. Remain diligent about checking your pet’s skin so the little creatures don’t burrow into their skin. Unlike fleas, ticks don’t often bother your pets, so unless you are checking for them, you may not be alerted to their existence.

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