Ticks are common parasites that may be found on dogs throughout the United States.
Despite their small size, ticks can carry dangerous diseases, so it is important to detect and remove them in a timely manner.
Read on to learn more about ticks, their associated diseases, and most importantly for you and your pet: how to search for and safely remove them from your dog.
How Do I Safely Remove a Tick if I Find One on My Dog?
To remove a tick from your dog:
- Use tweezers instead of your fingers, as tickborne diseases can be transferred upon contact with mucous membranes or breaks in the skin.1
- Gently but firmly grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible to ensure the tick’s head is removed.
- Pull straight back (perpendicular to the skin surface) with slow, steady pressure.
It may take a few minutes for the tick to release, so be patient and apply constant pressure.
After tick removal, inspect the site to ensure that the head has been completely removed and remove anything remaining using the same method.
It is possible for the tick’s mouth parts to break off during removal and remain in the skin; these will eventually be naturally extruded but may increase the risk of developing an infection at the site.
Clean the area with soap and water and wash your hands thoroughly.
Dispose of the tick by placing it in a sealed container with rubbing alcohol or flushing it down the toilet. Over the next few days, monitor the site of the tick bite closely for excessive redness, itchiness, pain, pus discharge, or formation of a bump, as these may indicate infection or an inflammatory reaction.2
Burning the tick with a match or smothering it with Vasoline are not recommended methods, as these can increase the chance of the dog contracting a tickborne disease.3
What Is a Tick?
A tick is a small, wingless, ovoid to round arachnid (a relative of spiders and scorpions) that has 8 legs and no antennae. Ticks live in the environment and survive by attaching to and ingesting blood from host animals. Their bites are painless, allowing them to feed from their hosts for extended periods of time (hours to days). The tick life cycle includes egg, larva, nymph, and adult stages, each with a different physical appearance. Both nymphs and adults can feed from dogs.4
What Types of Ticks Are Found in the United States?
Multiple tick species are found in the United States and are often native to specific regions.5 Four species most frequently affect dogs: the deer tick or blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum), the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), and the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis).6
What Diseases Do Ticks Carry?
Different tick species are capable of carrying and transmitting different diseases that can be harmful to dogs.7 For example, deer ticks can carry Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) and Anaplasmosis (Anaplasma phagocytophilum).8 Other tickborne diseases in dogs include Ehrlichiosis (Ehrlichia canis), Babesiosis (Babesia canis or gibsoni), and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (Rickettsia rickettsii), among others.9 Some tickborne illnesses, such as tick paralysis, are potentially fatal. Most of these diseases are not directly contagious between dogs or from dogs to humans; they are mainly spread through tick bites.10
When and How Should I Check My Dog for Ticks?
People living in areas with endemic tick populations should frequently check their dogs for ticks, especially after the dog has been outside in forested or grassy areas in temperatures above freezing (32°F). Ticks die or become dormant in freezing weather but survive at any temperature above this; therefore, it may still be necessary to check dogs for ticks well into the fall and even winter.11
To check a dog for ticks, first look for any abnormal bumps on the skin or sticking up from under the fur. You may then slowly and carefully comb through the dog’s fur with your fingers or a fine-toothed comb, feeling for small bumps protruding from the skin surface. Ticks that have not been attached for long will be smaller and flatter, while ticks that have been feeding for multiple hours or days will be enlarged, round and swollen. Check for ticks everywhere, including the ears, paws, armpits, and under the tail.
What Other Actions Should I Take if My Dog Has Had a Tick?
If your dog has a tick that is engorged (round and swollen) or that might have been attached for more than 24 hours, you may consider scheduling a veterinary appointment 6 weeks after the tick is removed to have the dog checked for exposure to tickborne diseases. In the meantime, monitor your dog for signs such as lethargy, limping, swollen joints, decreased appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea, which can indicate a tickborne illness.12
How Can I Prevent My Dog from Getting Ticks?
All dogs living in areas with ticks should be on year-round flea and tick prevention. Multiple types of preventatives are available, from collars to topicals to chewable tablets. These may help to repel and/or kill ticks that attach to the dog, preventing the transmission of tickborne diseases. It is important to continue tick prevention into the fall and even winter since as long as temperatures remain above freezing, ticks can survive. Talk to your vet about which preventative option might be best for you and your dog.
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- Houseman RM. Ticks and tick-borne diseases. Extension.missouri.edu. Accessed April 4, 2022.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Fleas and ticks. Aspca.org. Accessed April 4, 2022.
- American Veterinary Medical Association. External parasites. Avma.org. Accessed April 4, 2022.
- Illinois Department of Public Health. Common ticks. Dph.illinois.gov. Accessed April 4, 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Regions where ticks live. Cdc.gov. Updated May 27, 2021. Accessed January 14, 2022.
- Llera R, Ward E. Ticks in dogs. Vcahospitals.com. Accessed April 4, 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tick ID. Cdc.gov. Updated January 10, 2019. Accessed January 14, 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tickborne Diseases of the United States: A Reference Manual for Healthcare Providers. 5th ed. Fort Collins, CO; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2018.
- Klein J. Tick-borne diseases in dogs: symptoms & how to prevent. Akc.org. Published May 19, 2021. Accessed April 4, 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lyme disease: transmission. Cdc.gov. Accessed April 4, 2022.
- Minnesota Department of Health. Ticks. Health.state.mn.us. Accessed April 4, 2022.
- Michigan State University. Quick tick facts. Cvm.msu.edu. Accessed April 4, 2022.