The warm weather months means it’s tick season but depending on your area, your dog can be exposed to ticks year round! If you take your dog outdoors especially on trails or around grassy, wooded, or brushy areas, you may find ticks crawling through your dog’s fur trying to find a good spot to latch onto. If you miss these small bugs, it won’t be long until you’re petting your dog and running your fingers across a sizable lump: an engorged tick burrowed into your dog’s skin! Ticks carry and transmit diseases that can infect you and your dog such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever so it’s important to regularly “exam” them by petting and feeling for them, knowing how to safely remove attached ticks and preventing tick exposure.
Clean Tick Removal
Ticks are small parasites that feed on their host’s blood by attaching and inserting their mouth into the skin, firmly gluing themselves in. They can feed for a few hours to a few days. They are usually large enough for us to see but if your dog’s fur is long or dark, it’s possible to miss them before they attach. If you find a tick feeding on your dog, don’t panic! It’s important to remove the tick cleanly to prevent further infection. Twisting, jerking, or squeezing the tick can break off mouthparts left in the skin or cause more saliva to enter your dog’s bloodstream, increasing the risk of disease.
Using clean and fine-tipped tweezers, hold the tick as close to the skin as possible and slow and steadily pull upwards. Do not twist it out with tweezers! After removing the tick, you can disinfect the area with alcohol and apply some antibiotic cream. For identification, you can preserve the tick in some rubbing alcohol and bring it to your vet in case symptoms prop up.
You can also use tools specially made for tick removal like the Tick Twister or Tick Key which require you to hook the tick and slowly twist the tool until the tick releases before pulling out. I like to keep one of these tools in my dog pouch on walks, hikes, and travel just in case!
There may be some redness and scabbing around the area where the tick was attached which is normal. Keep an eye on the area and make sure there isn’t too much swelling or pus, otherwise it may be infected. If the head is left in, don’t worry! Your dog will naturally expel it on it’s own. Symptoms of tick-related illness are vomiting, depression, loss of appetite, fever, lameness, swollen joints and lymph nodes, neurological problems, and many more but they may not show up until a few months after infection. It’s best to check with a veterinarian right away if possible!
Safe and Gentle Prevention
Ticks are tough, they can live up to 3 years without any food! They find their hosts by detecting odor, moisture, heat, and vibration. They cannot fly or jump but wait on grass or shrubs for the host to brush by. So if your pup passes through some grass, an ambushing tick will climb it’s way on to your pup’s body! Because of this, one of my favorite ways to prevent ticks is using a natural repellent such as Wondercide. Spray or rub your pet down with a natural pest repellent before going outdoors, you can even make one yourself! Don’t forget to apply repellent to yourself!
Another option is to repel ticks from the inside out by supplementing your dog’s diet with whole foods such as garlic in small and safe amounts but this method requires long term use. Although prescription and over the counter pesticides and flea/tick treatments work well, they can have detrimental side effects and oral medications require your pup to ingest pesticides. Many of these products don’t repel ticks either and require the tick to bite the host. Avoid toxic spray pesticides such as DEET.
Remember to check your dog’s body regularly during and after your walks or hikes. Run your fingers through their fur down to their skin to help you see better. Ticks tend to hang out around the face near the ears and eyes, around the groin, armpits, under their collar or harness, and between the toes. Ticks transmit diseases by feasting on a variety of hosts so protect your pup, yourself, and your family by being proactive and keeping ticks OFF!