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Help! My Dog Has a Tick!

removing a tick from a dog

Not all ticks are as easy to spot as these... where there is one there are often more, though.

Dogs get Lyme disease too, so if you live in a Lyme disease endemic area and have a dog that likes to roll in the grass it’s wise to do daily tick-checks. What do you do if you find a tick on your dog? You can either remove it yourself or take your pooch to the veterinarian for assistance. Either way, it can be a good idea to save the tick and send it for testing, both to help in case your dog starts showing symptoms and to assist researchers collecting data on Lyme disease. Firstly, though, how do you remove a tick from a dog? (Video below.)

Regular Tick Checks for Dogs

Those adopting a dog are advised to conduct daily handling training sessions to get the dog used to his paws, ears, mouth, nose and the rest of his body being touched. This makes things considerably easier when going for health checks and when trying to remove ticks from your dog. Ticks often like to crawl up into joints or between the toes, making them particularly tricky to spot on dogs with long hair. Keeping your dog’s coat well groomed means that it is easier to spot bumps that might be ticks, so regular brushing, bathing and hair trims are especially important for dogs in tick-infested areas.

Don’t Stop Looking After Finding One Tick

Ticks need to be attached for around a day to two days before Lyme disease bacteria are transmitted. There is a small risk of earlier transmission if the bacteria were already in the tick’s saliva, as is more often the case in Europe and Asia where different tick species are present compared to North America. Removing one tick does not mean that there are not others lurking elsewhere in the fur, so carry on checking the rest of your dog even after finding a tick and removing it.

How to Check a Dog for Ticks

Checking your dog for ticks means slowly running your fingers over your dog’s entire body, including between his toes, inside his ears and around his armpits and face. Anywhere that you feel a bump, gently move the fur aside to see if it is a buried tick. Ticks can be very small, especially if they have not been feeding for long, meaning that it can be tricky to see them or differentiate them from a seed stuck to your dog, or a bit of mud in some cases. Some ticks are as small as the head of a pin so it can help to look over your dog’s skin with a magnifying glass to check any bumps. Ticks may be active all year in some states, even waking up in winter if there are a couple of warm days back to back. There is, therefore, no period of rest when tick checks become unnecessary.

What do You Need to Remove a Tick from a Dog?

If you do find a tick and decide to remove it yourself then it is wise to have the following equipment:

  • Protective surgical gloves
  • Clean tweezers or a commercial tick removal device
  • Antiseptic lotion of cream
  • Isopropyl alcohol (to kill the tick and for storage)
  • Tupperware or glass jar (for storage)

Removing a Tick from Your Dog

Wearing gloves while removing a tick from your dog reduces your own risk of being exposed to bacteria in the tick. The trick is to try to grasp the tick as close to the dog’s skin as possible in order to pull out the whole thing rather than breaking the tick apart and leaving the head still buried. Grasping the tick with the tweezers by the abdomen can cause the tick to burst and regurgitate its infected stomach contents into the dog’s skin, making infection more likely. Use a steady and straight movement to pull the tick out, rather than twisting or jerking as this can increase the risk of infection.

Store Your Tick

After removing the tick drop it into a small container with isopropyl alcohol. This kills the tick and helps preserve it for later testing, should it be deemed necessary. If you can, label the container with the date and the location that you think the tick came from (i.e. if you went to some local woods and then found the tick on your dog). The tick can also be frozen in a plastic container. Do not use petroleum jelly, a lit match or methylated spirits to try to kill the attached tick as this can increase the risk of the tick passing bacteria onto your dog and be hazardous to your dog in itself.

After Removing a Tick from Your Dog

Be sure to apply an antiseptic lotion to the dog’s skin at the site of the tick bite and clean the tweezers with isopropyl alcohol. Wash your hands thoroughly and give your dog lots of love (and a treat!). Dogs that are not used to handling can be trained to undergo this process by performing sham runs. That way, when a tick is present it is much easier to calmly remove it from your dog, with both of you already used to the steps needed.

Signs of Lyme Disease in Dogs

After tick removal, watch your dog for any signs of infection, including lameness, reticence about moving, obvious joint pain or swelling, loss of appetite, mood issues, irritation at the site of tick removal or other abnormalities. Some dogs develop a fever and may drink significantly more water than usual, which can lead to bathroom accidents, even in house-trained dogs. If your dog is acting in an unusual fashion after having a tick removed then take your dog, and the stored tick, to our veterinarian for a check-up to see if testing is needed. In many cases dogs bitten by ticks will simply knock the tick off as they roll around and carry out their usual activities. However, knowing how to remove a tick from your dog is important, especially in Lyme disease endemic areas.

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