How to Remove a Tick From a Dog: What You Need to Know
As spring flings in with sunshine and flowers, it also brings an unwanted guest: the dreaded tick. (Ick.)
Most of us know the struggle of having to check ourselves and our pets for ticks after a bout of warm weather or a weekend camping trip. If you’ve never had to do a tick check or been bitten by one of these pesky buggers, consider yourself lucky.
To help you and your dog make the most out of spring and summer, we’ve pulled together what every dog parent should know about tick prevention for dogs.
What is a tick?
Other than annoying, ticks are small, blood-sucking arachnids. Yes, you heard that right: these 8-legged bugs are in the same family as spiders.
Not all ticks are created equal, other: in fact, there are hundreds of types of ticks. Many of these ticks carry harmful bacteria and viruses that can make humans and animals really sick Ixodes ticks in particular are generally <3mm in size and can carry a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi sense lato which transmits Lyme disease (a bacterial infection of bodily organs).
Ticks are sneaky, too. They tend to nestle into warm, wooded areas and tall grass, where they’ll wait for you or your dog to brush by and hitch a free ride.
Best tick control for dogs: What can you do?
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Before we move into how to identify and remove a tick from your dog, let’s talk about preventing ticks from attaching to your beloved pet in the first place.
Your first line of defence is your veterinary team. They’ll know what tick prevention regime is best for your dog based on factors like geography, lifestyle (how often your dog is on the road or at an off-leash park, for example), body size, and fur type. Tick prevention for dogs in Canada will look different based on what part of the country you live in, and whether you spend time in other high-exposure countries like the United States, Europe, or Australia where there’s an increase risk of things like Ehrlichiosis (which impacts dogs’ blood cells) and tick-bite paralysis.
There is also a wide range of chewables and topicals available for flea and tick prevention in Canada. In some cases, it’s appropriate to use a combination of both. For those of you who have feline family members in the household, please be aware that many topical tick products for dogs contain permethrin, which is very toxic to cats.
Although you don’t often have control over the condition of spaces outside your home, how you maintain your yard is another way to keep ticks at bay. We’ll tackle that in a minute. But first: how to spot a tick, and how to safely get rid of it.
What do ticks look like on dogs?
Most tick nymphs are the size of a poppy seed and unfed adults are the size of an apple seed. They vary in colour from shades of grey, yellow, or brown to black, and when they have fed on a blood meal they look like a raised mole or dark skin tag.
Much like fleas, ticks love to feed on dogs’ blood.
Ticks make quick work of attaching to dogs, but it’s not until they’ve been feeding for at least a few days (72 hours) that they become an engorged (swollen) tick. The longer they feed, the more likely carrier ticks are to transmit disease, so it’s important to remove them as soon as possible.
What does a tick look like on a dog? Well, it depends on how long they have been feeding:
Because a tick bite is generally painless, you probably won’t know your dog has been bitten unless or until you check.
When tick season rolls around, make a habit of running your hands over your dog’s body every time you return from a walk or a play outside. Chances are your dog will appreciate the extra pets, anyway!
Ticks are especially fond of taking shelter on your dog’s head, neck, feet, and ears (inside and out). Make sure you double- or even triple-check for ticks on dog ears and other sneaky spots.
What does an embedded tick look like on a dog?
If a tick has helped itself to a meal of your dog’s blood and has resultingly embedded itself, then it will most likely look like a dark skin tag or raised mole. Depending on your dog’s fur type, it might be difficult to find without parting the fur.
How to remove a tick from a dog
So you’ve found a tick. Now what?
Removing ticks from dogs isn’t glamorous work, but it’s critical to protect their health and wellbeing. While there are other methods out there, we recommend keeping things simple and using a staple household item: the trusted tweezer. Don’t have one? We’ve got you covered with our Waggle Mail Pet First Aid Kits that come with not only tweezers, but dozens of other pet first aid essentials hand-picked by our resident veterinarian.
How to remove ticks from dogs:
STEP 1: Using your tweezers, squeeze the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. If your dog has a hard time sitting still, try distracting them with a treat or a chew while you do the extraction.
STEP 2: Pull upwards with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick! Doing this can cause the head and mouthparts to detach and increase the chances of a reaction. Compress the area with a hot cloth 2-3 times daily for 5-15 minutes to help fester it out (as you would a bad zit).
STEP 3: Once the tick has been successfully removed, give the bite area a thorough clean and wash your hands. Some dogs will want to scratch the site; if needed, use an e-collar or a t-shirt to prevent them from doing so.
EXPERT TIP: Dog tick bite lumps, or a little redness and irritation after a tick extraction, is normal. If your dog has a bump after a tick bite, the inflammation should disappear within a week. If not, or if they seem uncomfortable, give your vet a call. Taking daily photos of the area can help you track progression.
STEP 4: To kill the tick, submerge it in alcohol. Once the deed is done, pop it in a sealed bag or container, or flush it down the toilet. Or, better yet, if you’re not totally grossed out by ticks, keep them and give them to your family vet. (What a gift!) Because only certain ticks transmit diseases of concern, your veterinarian will be able to identify that tick—either on their own or through additional testing—to determine any risks to your dog and other loved ones.
STEP 5: Monitor your dog and the tick bite lump or area over the next month. If you notice any of the following symptoms, book in to see your veterinarian:
- A bull’s-eye rash appears at the bite site within 3 to 30 days, or shows signs of infection (painful, inflamed, puss)
- Sudden decrease in appetite
- Generalized pain (e.g., limping)
- Unexplained weight loss, with no diet or exercise change
What does a tick bite look like on a dog?
If a tick has been removed quickly and properly there is a usually a small, red bump left behind on the skin. Depending on how long the tick has been latched for, your dog’s skin might be a little swollen or irritated.
Tick prevention for dogs: Tick-proofing your yard
Even if your dog is taking a topical or oral tick prevention product, it’s important to also keep your yard a tick-free zone. To do that, you should:
- Remove leaf litter
- Clear tall grasses and brush
- Place a 3-foot-wide barrier of wood chips/gravel between your lawn and wooded areas (this restricts tick migration)
- Regularly mow your lawn
- Keep wood in a dry area away from the house (rodents carry ticks, and besides… we’re guessing you don’t want rodents, either)
- Keep things like playgrounds and patio furniture away from trees and yard edges
Tick vaccine for dogs: Fact or fiction?
Dog parents ask us all the time about whether there’s a tick vaccine for dogs, and the answer is yes, but the vaccine is specific to a particular bacteria transmitted by a particular tick.
EXPERT TIP: Many vets in areas with low exposure to Lyme disease won’t keep tick vaccines for dogs on hand, so if you’re planning a trip with your dog it’s best to give your vet clinic a heads up in case you both decide it’s best to order ahead.
This vaccine (the Canine Lyme Disease vaccine) works by stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies against Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria—the root cause of Lyme disease—transmitted through black-legged tick (also known as deer tick) bites.
The Canine Lyme Disease vaccine is sometimes administered by veterinarians, but its appropriateness for your dog depends on a host of factors: age, lifestyle, location, and so on. A consult with your vet to determine your dog’s risk level will help you decide if the tick vaccine is a fit for your dog.
If you found these dog tick prevention tips helpful, subscribe to Waggle (e)Mail. We love sharing fun, easy, and effective ways to promote a healthy body, healthy mind, and healthy pet-parent bond.
Dr. C. Beck
Registered Veterinarian, Founder & CEO