It has to be one of the most unpleasant things a pet parent has to tackle: removing ticks from your dog or cat. Unlike fleas, ticks — they’re like gross little vampire bugs — attach themselves to your pet’s skin, bite them, suck their blood and eventually drop off. They’re most active in autumn and spring, but don’t let your guard down the rest of the year as they’re still hanging around.
If you’re not sure how to check your pet for ticks, or how to deal with them — whatever you do, don’t try to pull them out with your fingers — here are some tips from our Vet Council to help guide you through the ordeal:
Run your hands over your pet’s body and finger-comb their hair. If you feel pea-sized bumps, they could be ticks. You’ll most likely find them around your pet’s head, neck, ears and feet, although they can attach themselves to any part of their body. It’s best not to use a brush or flea comb to do the search as you might dislodge part of the tick’s body and leave their head and mouth inside your furry friend (not good and we tell you why later).
Make sure it’s ticks you’re dealing with. So you’ve found a bump or bumps and now you need to inspect them more closely to make sure they’re ticks. Fortunately, ticks are usually large enough to see easily. Even better news for you, they don’t jump around like fleas but stay put on your pet. Here’s what a typical mug shot of an adult tick shows: an ugly, flat (although they expand as they drink blood), oval critter with eight legs (not that we expect you to count them) in one of several colors: think autumnal hues like black, brown and grey. Found some? Then move on to the next tip.
Gather your tools. You’ll need a pair of fine-tipped tweezers (or a special tick removal tool) to extract the tick, rubbing alcohol to kill it, and a container to collect the dead ticks in. As ticks spread diseases (you’ve probably heard of Lyme disease, which humans can catch too), you’ll want to dispose of any you collect safely.
Remove the ticks. This is the hard part as you’ll need to make sure you pull out the whole tick and not just part of it. Hold the tweezers parallel to your pet’s body and grab the tick’s head as near to the skin as possible. Very gently but firmly pull the tick up and out of the body in one piece. Be careful not to leave the head behind in your pet or squeeze the tick’s body as this can release toxins, which increases the risk of infection.
Clean your pet’s skin. Apply disinfectant or antibiotic ointment to the area where the tick was attached—there will probably be a small wound. And don’t forget to wash your hands, unless you were wearing protective gloves (a good idea).
Job done? Now consider protecting your pet with spot-on treatments or sprays.
In addition to products you can purchase from your veterinarian, some natural choices include the Natural Care line of flea and tick products, which uses naturally-sourced plant extracts such as clove, thyme and cinnamon oils to create a strong and gentle defense for your pet. Their flea and tick spray and shampoo can be used on both cats and dogs, while their spot-on treatment is for dogs only.
One last thing. If you’re squeamish about dealing with ticks, consider letting the experts — your vet — do the job, especially if you think part of the tick is still embedded in your pet, or your pet has a tick or ticks in their hard-to-reach inner ear canal.