Ticks are one of the many insect parasites that you will, sooner or later, find on any dog that spends time outside. They're everywhere in the country; they can hang out in tall grass or bushes or leaf litter, and they're virtually impossible to truly avoid.
So, what happens if you find a tick on your poor pupper?
Chances are, they haven't even really noticed, so it's up to you to do something about it. Here's a five-step process on how to deal with a tick on your dog.
Often times pet parents will find a tick when they feel a mysterious bump that wasn’t previously there.
It’s recommended that you inspect your pup after each walk. I get it, that’s a lot to ask. A more reasonable recommendation is to inspect your pup anytime they are romping around in tall grass, and after hikes through wooded areas.
Ticks that transmit disease do so after different periods of time. Diseases such as Lyme usually require a tick to be attached for more than 24 hours, so time is of the essence in locating those little buggers.
There are several spots ticks will likely take up residence, so pay particularly close attention to the following locations when inspecting your pup for ticks:
Step 1: Gather Materials
Removing a tick is generally pretty easy, but you want to have some items on hand to make it easier, safer, and faster. The key here is having supplies on hand before you actually need them. Think of it like a first aid kit for your pup.
First, you want something to remove a tick. There are a bunch of different tools to do this, which I'll talk about in the next step, but if you don’t have one, you can just use tweezers.
You'll also want something to protect yourself from potential tick-borne illnesses. Inexpensive disposable latex gloves are great to have on hand for all sorts of reasons, and in this case they can protect you from touching the tick or from it biting you after you remove it.
You'll want a resealable baggy you can seal up, along with some damp paper towel. This will help you preserve the tick so you can bring it to your vet for testing and to identify whether or not it's carrying diseases.
Finally, you'll want some aftercare materials, like soap or an antiseptic, to help make sure the bite doesn't get infected. If you go the antiseptic route, make sure it’s made for dogs.
You may also want to have a treat on hand in case your fur baby doesn't want to sit still or is stressed out by you messing with that irritating bite on their skin. A little bribe or distraction can go a long way to getting your pup to stay still.
I'll talk about a few different options here, as well as some things you should avoid doing.
The Tweezer Method
Perhaps the most common way to remove a tick from your fur baby is to use tweezers. We all have tweezers floating around for the stray splinter, bee stinger, or other object caught in the skin, and a tick is not so different.
It’s important to note that you should use fine tipped tweezers, not the wider versions that are often used to pluck eye brows or remove splinters.
Pull fur back and away from the tick so you have as clear a view of it as possible. It's not going to try to run and hide; it's latched onto the skin where it sits. You want to avoid pulling fur along with the tick.
Place the tweezers around the tick’s head as close to the skin as possible.
Grasp firmly, but don't squeeze too hard. You don't want to squish or rupture the tick.
Pull straight out and away from the skin to remove the tick.
Do not twist as you pull. You want to remove the tick as completely and cleanly as possible, and you want to avoid forcing it to vomit it’s stomach contents back into the bite, which is a primary vector for transmitting disease.
If the tick breaks and leaves the head or mouthparts behind, you can try to remove them as well, or you can leave them where they are. As the bite heals, your fur baby's skin will push the remaining bits out, and pulling and picking at them might cause irritation and infection.
The Tick Remover Method
The tick remover method is similar to the tweezers method, except it dramatically reduces the risk of squeezing or breaking the tick when you remove it. That's because they're designed to slide under the tick and use leverage to pull it up and away without needing to squeeze or grasp it.
Here are some examples of designs:
Tick Twisters, which resemble the claw side of a hammer. They slide under the tick and with a few twists they remove them. Yep, I said twist. Because this tool doesn’t put pressure on the mouth or body, the twisting motion appears to be a safe option.
Tick Keys, which work in more or less the same way but with a smaller form factor, designed to easily hang on a keychain so you always have it with you. Note that the narrow end is the leverage end and can push into your dog's skin and cause irritation if you need to use it a lot.
Tick Checks, which are more like a fancy set of tweezers with easy-to-use handles for more leverage.
I don’t personally have experience with any of these tools, so read verified reviews and ask friends and family what’s work best for them.
What Not to Do
There are a lot of different instructions on how to remove ticks, but a lot of them are actually dangerous to your fur baby.
I already mentioned twisting up above, but here are a couple of others. Note that some products, like the Tick Tornado, tell you to twist to remove ticks; this is actually dangerous and, while it certainly removes the ticks, increases the chance of disease spreading to your fur baby. Just don't do it.
Don't use chemicals to smother the tick. Things like gasoline, Vaseline, rubbing alcohol, or other chemicals are meant to smother the tick and make it back out and away from a hazardous environment. The problem is, in their struggle to get away, they almost always vomit back into the bite, which dramatically increases the chance of disease spreading to your fur baby.
Don't use a match. There's a piece of folk wisdom that says using a match to scald the back end of a tick will make it back out and flee. For the same reasons as above, this can spew disease back into your dog, and it also makes the tick less recognizable and harder to identify if you bring it to the vet.
In addition to the risk of spreading disease, these methods also can hurt your fur baby. Anything like this that irritates the skin, especially around an already-irritated spot like a tick bite, can be rough for your pup.
Check out this great video on the dos and don’ts of removing a tick:
Step 3: Save the Tick
Your damp paper towel is used to wrap up the tick to keep it hydrated and identifiable when you bring it to the vet. The zippered baggy is there to contain it so it doesn't crawl away and hide (or bite something else) before you can bring it in. If the tick dies, that's fine; you just don't want it to dissolve or rot, and you want to bring it to the vet as soon as you can for testing and identification.
Why should you save the tick? After all, the vet probably knows all about ticks in the area, right?
Well, two reasons. The first is that ticks aren't static. They can migrate, move, and spread, and their areas are always changing. It's entirely possible you live on a border of a kind of tick, and seeing that it's there can help a vet spread the word and report back to central health authorities for more accurate information.
The second and most important reason is so that your vet can run tests on the tick. These tests will identify whether or not the tick is carrying diseases. Tick-borne diseases can be dangerous and include:
Lyme Disease, which can cause lethargy, muscle and joint aches, and enlarged lymph nodes.
Canine Bartonellosis, which is rare but can cause lameness, fever, liver disease, and heart disease.
Different ticks can transmit different types of diseases, and the list above is just a few of them; here's a list of many other tick borne diseases. Tick diseases can be dangerous, but they're also generally treatable, especially if you catch them early. By testing the tick, the vet can tell you what, if anything, you need to watch out for and how it may present.
Step 4: Clean the Wound
The next step is to clean the bite wound. You want to do this to help prevent it from getting infected, which will cause a whole host of problems for your pup.
Once you've removed the tick and, if necessary, any remaining mouthparts, you'll want to wash the area with soap and water or an antiseptic solution. These will help kill off anything like bacteria in the area and can promote the healing of the skin.
After this, keep an eye on your pup and watch for symptoms. Similarly, keep an eye on the bite site to make sure it doesn't get red, inflamed, or show other signs of infection.
Finally, make sure you clean all of your tools so they are ready for the next use.
Step 5: Call Your Vet
Finally, when all is said and done, you should call your vet. You don't need to rush your fur baby to an emergency appointment, but you may need to stop in to hand over the tick for testing and may or may not want to bring your fur baby in to have them looked at as well. Just listen to what the vet says when you tell them you pulled a tick off your dog, and they'll tell you what to do next.
Other than that, unless your vet gives you specific instructions, you're probably good to go. Just keep an eye on your fur baby for any potential signs of a tick-borne disease, keep an eye out for other ticks, and go on about your life.
Preventing Ticks on Your Dog
If you landed on this post because you found a tick, you’re at least armed with the information you need to remove it. And while it’s difficult to 100% avoid ticks there are some things you can do to lower the chances of your pup picking one up.
Use a Flea & Tick Preventative
Believe it or not, not all monthly flea treatments include tick prevention, so check the brand you’re using to ensure you’re covered.
You’ll also want to check which species of ticks it covers, and which ones are common in your area to ensure your pup is getting the protection they need. Also consider what life stages they cover. For full coverage, you need larva, nymph, and adult.
Check out the chart below for some examples of tick coverage in common preventatives.
Ticks obviously aren’t the only concern when it comes to prevention, so talk with your vet to see what’s best for your pup.
Ticks obviously aren’t the only concern when it comes to prevention, so talk with your vet to see what’s best for your pup.
Another key factor here is ensuring you keep up with regular treatment. Set a reminder to ensure there is no lapse in coverage, and use caution if you stop in winter months as some ticks can survive colder temps.
Make Your Yard Less Tick Friendly
If you have a yard, odds are your pup spends a lot of time running around enjoying the space. The key here is trying to make it as safe as possible, and there are several steps you can take to improve your pup’s safety.
Cut your grass regularly and remove any tall grass along the tree lines where your pup has access.
Discourage wild animals from visiting your yard.
Do not leave out food.
Secure trash cans.
Consider plants/flowers that are less desirable to deer.
Frequently Asked Questions about Ticks on Dogs
There's a lot to know about ticks on dogs, so let's talk about some of the more common questions I receive about it.
Where are you most likely to find ticks?
Ticks tend to like small, cramped, out-of-the-way places, like folds in skin, joints, and even between the toes. They want to be harder to get to, out of the way of being brushed off, and near where blood is close to the surface of the skin. Check under joints, around the groin, around the face, and between the toes.
Can a tick that bit my dog also bite me?
Yes! If a tick naturally falls off or is brushed off but survives, it can find its way to another source of food, and ticks aren't picky. Anything with blood is something they'll try to bite, and that can include you.
How long do ticks hang around?
This one depends. A tick that's feeding might stay between 3-7 days before detaching and going somewhere to lay eggs. However, if your dog has an active anti-tick treatment or an immune reaction to the tick, it might actually stick around longer trying to feed.
How can I prevent ticks in the first place?
As I mentioned above, you can make your yard less friendly to ticks, but unfortunately, it's almost impossible to completely prevent them. Any time you take your dog for a walk, and they can encounter external plants, there's a possibility of a tick showing up. I wrote a guide on repelling ticks here.
When are ticks most active?
Ticks can show up any time of the year, though places where it freezes and snows are less likely to have ticks show up in those winter months. In contrast, warmer and moist summer months are the peak times for ticks.
Are there natural ways to remove and prevent ticks?
Yes! In fact, I wrote a whole guide to natural remedies to help prevent ticks from sticking around and to remove them if they show up anyway. You can read it here.
Do you have any other questions I haven't covered? If so, please leave them in the comments below so I can answer. I look forward to it!
K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer (https://www.amazon.com/author/kmariealto), and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 45K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).