It's a common scenario: you and your dog head outdoors to enjoy a hike through the woods, fields, or park only to come back with a few eight-legged stowaways. Ticks! Besides the annoyance and itchiness of their bite, certain ticks may transmit diseases. So despite the tick's fondness for “following" along with your dog, this is one social contact you definitely want to “unfollow"! Here are some basic facts about ticks and the steps to take a tick off a dog.
1. Understand the tick
Ticks aren't like fleas—they don't hop or jump from host to host. And they're not like flying insects; you won't find wings on a tick. Instead, ticks wait in grassy or weedy areas or places with brush/shrubbery.1 A tick waits on the vegetation with its front legs stretched out, hoping for a potential host to walk by. (This behavior is known as “questing.") This is why it's common to find ticks on your pet after an outdoor adventure—even in your yard. Ticks can also detect the presence of a potential host from the host's breath or body heat. They're quite tricky!
2. Check your dog
After an outdoor excursion, take a few moments to feel your dog all over, searching for the tell-tale indication of a tiny bump that might be a tag-along tick. (Bonus: your dog gets a much-needed massage!) Feeling with your hands is usually more effective than a visual check since your dog's fur may be difficult to see through. A fine-toothed comb like a flea comb might be helpful here, too. Check your dog's face for ticks as well.
3. Identify the tick
- Eight legs. It's easy to make the mistake of referring to all small crawling creatures as “bugs." But ticks aren't insects; they're arachnids, an animal class that includes spiders, mites, and scorpions. This distinction matters because arachnids have eight legs, rather than the six legs an insect has. This can help you when you're trying to identify whether it's a tick; if it doesn't have eight legs, it can't be a tick. Also, ticks don't possess antennae.
- What kind? There are a few different types of ticks that might be on your dog, which may vary by location. No matter what type it is, you'll want to remove the tick quickly. On dogs, you'll often find hard-bodied ticks like Wood ticks (American Dog ticks), Deer ticks, Lone Star ticks, and Brown Dog ticks. All of these ticks have similar appearances, but range in size from about 3mm to 5mm. 2
4. Remove the tick
If you find a tick on your dog but it's crawling around, you can safely dispose of it without any further action. (Note: avoid handling the tick with your bare hands.) A tick bite doesn't happen quickly like the bite of a horsefly or a sting from a bee—a tick takes quite a long time to bite.
If you find a tick that has settled down and attached itself to your dog's skin, remember the following tips:
- Use clean tweezers or a tick remover to pluck the tick off of your dog carefully.
- Try to use a single slow motion to help you remove all of the tick's body in one piece.3
- Grip the tick very close to your dog's skin when removing.
- Clean the bite location with an antiseptic and then monitor the spot for any further irritation.
- If desired, you can store the dead tick in alcohol; this can be beneficial if your dog begins to show signs of a tick-related illness.
How do you remove a tick from a dog if you don't have tweezers? If you're out and about and don't have the right tool, you can still remove the tick by pulling it out with your fingers. Again, grip the tick near your dog's skin, and use a tissue or plastic glove to avoid touching the tick.
So now your dog is free of ticks; how do you keep him that way? One method is to keep your dog indoors during tick season, but that's not always practical. Many people enjoy spending time outdoors with their dogs, so what we need are some other options to prevent ticks.
- Bathing. It's not always easy to find ticks on your dog, especially if he's a long-coated breed. Consider bathing him with a flea and tick shampoo designed to kill ticks soon after they come in contact with the suds. It's a good way to try to eliminate ticks you can't easily find.
- Tick deterrents. A tick collar or spot-on tick treatment can provide your pet with extended parasite protection. This stops ticks before they become a problem in the first place.
- Home spray. While it's possible to run across a tick or two in the house, they probably just hitched a ride on someone and sneaked in that way. It's unlikely that you have a tick infestation in your home in the sense of a flea infestation.4 Still, if you'd like the peace of mind knowing that your home is free of ticks, consider using a home and carpet spray that kills ticks.
- Yard spray. Your lawn is where ticks are more likely to hide, so keeping the grass mowed short may discourage them. Another way to discourage ticks is to utilize a yard and garden spray, which can kill existing ticks and prevent new ones from entering the yard.
If you have difficulty, you can always have your pet's veterinarian remove the tick for you or check out the bite area if it needs further attention. Also, be sure to get your veterinarian's advice when choosing a tick shampoo, collar, or treatment.
1. "Common Ticks," Illinois Department of Public Health, https://www.dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/environmental-health-protection/structural-pest-control/common-ticks
2. "How to Get Rid of Ticks," Pests.org, 2020, https://www.pests.org/get-rid-of-ticks/ 2020
3. "Fight Fleas And Ticks Naturally," Drweil.com, https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/balanced-living/pets-pet-care/fight-fleas-and-ticks-naturally/
4. Taylor, Glenda, and Vila, Bob. "Solved! What to Do When You Find Ticks in the House," Bobvila.com, https://www.bobvila.com/articles/ticks-in-the-house/