When you and your best friend head out on a hike in the woods, there’s a chance that your pup will come back with a tick… or three.
Flea and tick preventative medicine can help to prevent tick bites before they happen, but if your dog is bitten by a tick, you’ll need to know how to remove the tick the right way to minimize the chance of your dog getting a tick-borne disease. An adult female tick can latch on to a host for up to 7–10 days, but Lyme Disease and other harmful disease-causing bacteria can take 3–4 days to be passed on to your pup. When it comes to ticks, time is of the essence.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to be deep in the forest to be vulnerable to ticks—they can latch on at the park, or many other places, depending on where you live.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and remove this little sucker.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- How to remove a tick from a dog
- What not to do when removing a tick
- Tick-borne diseases in dogs
- How are tick-borne illnesses treated in dogs?
- Where in the U.S. are tick-related diseases the most common?
- How to keep ticks away from your dog
How to remove a tick from a dog
If your dog is bitten by a tick, the following steps can help you to remove it quickly and easily.
- Gather your tools. You will need a pair of tweezers or a tick removal tool. It’s also a good idea to wear disposable gloves whenever you need to handle a tick.
- Identify the site of the tick bite. Spread your dog’s fur apart so you can clearly see the tick. If your dog is uncooperative, it may be helpful to have a second person hold your dog or give him a treat or toy to focus on while you remove the tick.
- Grasp the tick with the tweezers—as close to your dog’s skin as possible. Your goal is to pull out the tick in one piece, without leaving its mouth in your dog’s skin, or breaking the tick apart (ick). If you’re using a special tick removal tool, you will need to place the tool so the prongs are placed on either side of the tick.
- If using tweezers, gently pull the tick straight upward. Create a slow, steady pressure as you remove the tick. If you’re using a tick removal tool, you will create a twisting motion as you pull straight up.
- Check and make sure that you’ve removed all of the tick parts from your dog’s skin. If the tick’s mouth remains in your dog’s skin, don’t attempt to dig it out with tweezers, which can lead to infection. Instead, take your dog to the vet, so your vet can remove any remaining tick parts in a sterile environment.
- Clean the bite site with soap and water. You can apply some antibiotic ointment to the site to help prevent infection. Keep a close eye on the tick bite area and contact your vet right away if the site becomes inflamed or red.
- Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water. Because, yuck.
- Put the tick in a jar with some isopropyl alcohol. This will kill the tick. Keep the tick in that jar for about a week or so. Why? If your dog becomes sick, your vet will be able to look at the tick’s body to determine the type of tick it was, and which diseases it may have been transmitted to your dog.
Don’t have tweezers or a tick-removing tool on hand? Dr. Stephanie Liff, Lemonade’s in-house vet, says all you need is a cotton ball and a bit of dish soap. Just dollop a bit of soap directly on the tick, spin the tick counter-clockwise, and then catch the insect with a cotton ball when it eventually detaches.
What not to do when removing a tick
When you remove ticks, it’s important to avoid grasping the tick by the body, which can cause the tick to inject its guts and saliva into your dog. This sounds nasty for a reason: it can be toxic to your dog and cause infection and disease.
Instead, your goal is to grasp the tick by the head and the mouthparts, as close to the skin as possible. This approach helps you to cleanly remove the tick without leaving any pieces behind.
Tick-borne diseases in dogs
Ticks carry all sorts of diseases that are bad news for dogs. A tick can infect your dog within just three to six hours of attaching itself, so you’ll want to remove ticks promptly to help prevent these serious diseases. The CDC has a helpful visual guide to ID various types of ticks you might encounter.
One of the most well-known tick-related diseases, Lyme Disease occurs across North America, and is on the rise thanks to climate change and other factors. It’s transmitted by black-legged ticks or deer ticks that are infected with the disease. Lyme Disease can affect both dogs and people.
If your dog has Lyme, you might notice symptoms like lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes, fever, limping or general discomfort, and swollen joints.
Anaplasmosis, also called “dog tick fever”, is carried by deer ticks and can be found worldwide.
Anaplasmosis symptoms include lethargy, stiff joints, fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. Dogs with severe infections may also experience seizures.
Transmitted by the brown dog tick, Babesiosis causes your dog’s red blood cells to break down.
Infected dogs may have dark urine, pale gums, orangish or yellowish skin and whites of eyes, and lethargy. Some dogs may also vomit and be unusually weak.
Canine ehrlichiosis is a disease found worldwide. It’s transmitted by brown dog ticks, American dog ticks, and the lone star tick. Ehrlichiosis symptoms start to appear between one and three weeks after a dog is bitten by a tick.
Common symptoms include loss of appetite, fever, and nose bleeds.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
The Rocky Mountain wood tick, American dog tick, and brown deer tick can all transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to you and your dog. This disease is found throughout North, Central, and South America.
Symptoms include joint pain, lack of appetite, fever, and swollen lymph nodes, though this disease can also cause neurological and balance issues.
How are tick-borne illnesses treated in dogs?
While these diseases sound scary, the good news is that they are treatable, especially if you notice the symptoms early on. If you notice any unusual symptoms after your dog has been bitten by a tick, it’s important to make an appointment with your vet right away so your dog can receive prompt treatment.
To diagnose tick-borne illnesses, your vet will likely test a few drops of your dog’s blood. (Results for Lyme, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis can be returned within 10 minutes.) If needed, they will also likely run a urinalysis and a more thorough blood test to determine the severity of any disease and the appropriate course of treatment. If the dog is limping, the vet might perform x-rays to check for tick paralysis.
If your dog has a run-in with a tick, pet insurance for dogs could help. With Lemonade Pet, a base accident and illness policy could help cover diagnostics and treatments for tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme disease.
In addition, Lemonade’s Preventative+ package can help cover the costs of a number of wellness and preventative treatments, including flea/tick prevention, to help keep those bloodthirsty pests off your pup in the first place.
Where in the U.S. are tick-related diseases the most common?
While many tick-borne diseases are found throughout the entire United States, you’re more likely to run into some of these diseases if you live in certain parts of the country. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, these are the states with the highest rates of Lyme disease in 2022:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
It’s always important to keep your dog safe from ticks, but if you live in one of these states, it’s a good idea to take extra steps to keep ticks away from your dog. To see the prevalence of other tick-borne illnesses, play around with the CAPC’s interactive maps—they are (almost) fun!
How to keep ticks away from your dog
First and foremost, try to keep your dog out of environments where ticks thrive. Ticks love areas of tall grass and forests, so stick to trails, and keep the grass in your yard mowed. After you’ve been out for a walk, thoroughly check your dog for ticks by running your hands underneath the fur and against their skin.
Keeping your dog well-groomed can also help you to quickly spot ticks. When your dog is groomed, it’s easier to work your hands through their coat and feel any ticks that may have latched on for a ride.
You can also use flea and tick prevention products, like topical treatments, flea pills, and tick collars. Your vet can recommend some quality products, and may advise keeping your dog on flea and tick prevention year-round.
Your vet may also recommend that you consider giving your dog a Lyme vaccine. The Lyme vaccine can help to protect dogs who live in areas that are at high-risk for Lyme disease.
Some dog owners use essential oils to help deter fleas and ticks, but these need to be properly diluted, and can be toxic to cats you might also live with. Talk to your vet before using essential oils and make sure that they will be safe for your entire fur fam.
Don’t get totally ticked off…
Ticks can be a serious threat to your dog’s health, but promptly and safely removing ticks can help to reduce the chance of your dog getting sick. You can also take many preventative steps to help keep dogs from bringing ticks home—so they never even get infected with disease in the first place.
But, like most things in life, it pays to be prepared for the unexpected. Pet insurance, for example, is a simple way to keep your pet covered from life’s surprises.