Ticks are a constant threat to dogs, especially if you live near or spend time with your dog in the woods or tall grass. Sometimes, even a well-kept lawn can be infested with these nasty (and potentially dangerous) little critters, so you need to know how to deal with them.
Really, the safest way to deal with ticks is to prevent them from biting your dog in the first place with a tick preventative, but sometimes things happen and your dog ends up with a tick and it is you, not your dog, that has to figure out what to do about it.
The good news is that, in almost every case, ticks can be removed at home without the help of a veterinarian if you do it carefully. If you find yourself in this situation, here are five tips for removing a tick safely.
Disinfect the Bite and Surrounding Skin Before and After Removing the Tick
You can use rubbing alcohol or any kind of veterinary-approved antiseptic spray or wipe to clean the area before and after removal. This can be extremely helpful in preventing infection of the bite.
Use Tweezers or a Tool Made Especially for Tick Removal
Never remove a tick with your hands. In fact, if at all possible you should be wearing gloves when you remove a tick. If a tick is carrying an infectious disease, using your fingers could cause the infected fluid to be injected into your dog. If you are not wearing gloves, this infected fluid could also get on your skin and into any open wounds you may have.
There are at least three options for tools to use for tick removal. The first is regular tweezers. If you use these, disinfect them with rubbing alcohol before and after removing the tick. The problem with regular tweezers, though, is that the tips may be too wide and the tool too straight (wrong angle) to safely remove a tick. If you’re going to use traditional tweezers, they really need to be a fine-tipped version.
The second option is to use a variation of tweezers with curved tips made specifically for tick removal. These will give you the angle you need to prevent part of the tick from breaking off in the skin.
The third tool is sold under various names but is more like pliers than it is like tweezers. The “jaws” of these pliers slide under the tick so you can pull it out without having to squeeze the tick. Most tick removal options cost less than $10.
Pull It Straight Out, Slowly, Gently, Without Twisting
Your number one goal in removing a tick is to make sure the “mouth” (hypostome) of the ectoparasite, which is inserted into your dog’s skin, is removed cleanly rather than breaking off and remaining in the skin, which is likely to cause a painful, itchy infection.
You need to pull the tick straight out, slowly and gently, and stopping if the inserted hypostome is not coming with the body. If you cannot remove the tick without breaking off the hypostome, it is best to have your veterinarian do so.
Do Not Squeeze the Tick’s Body While Removing It
The reason it is important to use appropriate tools to remove a tick from your dog is that you need to remove it by pinching the potentially dangerous pest on its head rather than its body. Not only will this help the hypostome slide out but it will prevent you from squeezing the tick’s body.
It is extremely important that you keep from squeezing the body because this can cause the parasite's saliva and stomach contents, both of which can contain dangerous pathogens, to be injected into your dog.
Save the Tick for Later Identification
If your dog gets sick after a tick bite, your vet may want to know what kind of ectoparasite bit your dog. So, just in case, after you remove the tick, place it in a clear plastic resealable bag. Write the date on the bag and store it in the freezer. Take it with you to the vet if you end up having to take your dog in for an illness that occurs soon after the tick bite.
As mentioned before, the best thing you can do for your dog regarding ticks is to do everything you can to prevent them from being bitten in the first place. This includes consistency with tick (and flea) preventative and keeping your dog’s outdoor environment free from tall grass and unkempt vegetation. If your dog does have a tick (or several) embedded in the skin, and you are careful and follow the tips listed above, you should be able to handle most situations at home. If your dog shows any signs of illness in the days or weeks after a tick bite, it is important, however, for you to take your dog to see a veterinarian immediately.