Updated - Jan 27th, 2022
Reviewed by Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM.
Wondering how to get a tick off your dog? Don’t panic! Though finding a tick on your precious pooch can be scary at first, there are steps you can take to safely remove it and prevent any future bites.
In this article, we’re breaking down what ticks are, how to prevent them, and how to safely get them off your dog. You want to act fast, so let’s get right to it!
What does a tick look like?
Ticks are foul little insects that can cause big trouble for our dogs. Ticks are in the arachnid family, like spiders. They have a one-piece body with tiny barbs or “mouthparts” that attach to their host for feeding. Their crab-like legs emit a sticky substance, helping them stay attached to their host for days or even weeks.
These creepy creatures sit on a bush, in a tree, or in the grass waiting for you. They can sense carbon dioxide, movement, and warmth. As soon as a tick detects a potential host, they wave their legs around hoping to snag on and crawl to an area on the body to embed and feed.
When they find a suitable spot, their mouths emit a numbing agent (so you can’t feel the bite), and an anticoagulant substance, preventing the blood in the bite from clotting so they can feed longer.
While feeding, a tick can remain embedded for two to three days, or as long as two weeks. When satiated, they will drop off. The longer they feed, the bigger their body gets.
How to get a tick off a dog: Step-by-step guide
The best time to remove a tick is when your dog is calm. If your dog is restless, a chew toy, a lick mat covered in peanut butter, or some tasty treats can help keep them occupied while you get to work.
Supplies you’ll need:
- Gloves – To avoid any contact with the tick since it can attach itself to you too.
- A pair of tweezers or a tick removal tool – Look for fine-tipped tweezers, not the blunt-nosed type. Tick removal tools are available online, but many veterinarians also carry them.
- Light or magnifying glass – Ticks can be super tiny, so using a bright light or magnifying glass can help you find them.
- Isopropyl Alcohol – a.k.a rubbing alcohol to kill the tick.
- Container with lid – To put a small amount of isopropyl alcohol in the container to contain the tick
- Camera or phone – To take a picture of the tick
- Disinfectant, antiseptic cream, or antibiotic ointment – To clean the wound once you’ve removed the tick.
1. Check the full body for ticks
Check your dog daily if they spend a lot of time outdoors, or you live in an area where ticks thrive. Since ticks can transfer between hosts, you’ll want to check your family members and other pets as well.
Run your hands slowly over your dog’s body looking for bumps, swelling, or any areas you see your dog biting or chewing (tick bites can be itchy).
Make sure you check everywhere – ticks aren’t picky about where they embed. They can hide on the torso, between toes, on the legs, where the legs meet the torso, inside ears, on faces, eyelids, chins, tail, and neck (under the collar too).
If you notice a bump or swollen area, part the dog’s fur, using a light or magnifying glass to look for the tick.
A tick can be from 1mm (pinhead size) to 1cm (finger-tip size) in size. Ticks in the larvae and nymph stages are harder to see at 0.5mm – 1mm, but they also embed and feed off hosts. If one has been feeding for a while, it can expand to ⅔ inches in diameter. You will see the legs and body protruding from your dog’s skin.
2. Remove the tick
Once you find the tick, use tweezers or a tick removal tool (preferred method) to remove the tick.
Here’s how to do it with each tool:
Never use blunt-ended tweezers. They can squeeze or crush the tick, releasing the infectious pathogens into your dog’s bloodstream. You also risk the possibility of getting those pathogens on you, too. Therefore, vets encourage you to use tweezers with fine tips to remove the tick if that’s your preferred tick removal process.
Grasp the tick’s body close to your dog’s skin, being careful not to pinch the skin. Use a slow, steady motion to disengage it. Be sure not to jerk, twist, or pull. The tick should loosen its mouthparts when it feels pressure, allowing you to remove it intact.
If you leave any of the mouthparts inside the wound, they can cause infection. Also, if you try to dig it out yourself, it can irritate the skin, causing inflammation, pain, and infection. If you see any remaining tick parts in the bite wound, it’s best to let your vet remove them.
Tick removal tool
This is the preferred method of tick removal as there is less of a chance of crushing the tick, making the process much easier. If you live in an area where ticks are prevalent, you may want to look into a highly-rated tool like the Tornado and the Tick Stick.
Place the tool against your dog’s skin near the tick and slide the notch (the V part of the tool) under the tick. Once you have the tick in the notch, carefully twist it with a steady upward motion. The tick should disengage, allowing you to remove the entire tick from the skin.
3. Kill the tick
Once you have examined the tick to make sure all the parts of it are intact, place the tick into the container with the isopropyl alcohol to kill it. Place the lid on the container and keep it. If your dog shows symptoms of tick-borne illness (see below), your veterinarian may need to identify which type of tick bit your dog and test it for pathogens.
4. Take a picture of the tick
If you can’t face keeping the tick for the vet, taking a picture of the tick so the vet can identify it is also helpful. Flush the tick down the toilet
5. Clean the wound
After you remove the tick from your dog’s skin, clean the bite area with an antiseptic and apply a triple antibiotic cream or lotion.
Ineffective tick removal methods to avoid
You may have heard of other ways to remove a tick such as burning a tick, drowning it with nail polish remover, or smothering it with Vaseline. These methods are not effective and can cause damage to your dog’s skin.
In fact, many experts believe these methods can cause the tick to secrete an infectious substance during the dying process, causing a greater risk of tick-borne pathogens to enter your dog’s body. Steer clear of these methods!
Tick-borne diseases infect thousands of animals and humans each year. In the United States alone, there are over 200 species of ticks, but the most common troublemakers are:
- The American Dog Tick
- Deer Tick or Black Legged Tick
- Brown Dog Tick
- Lone Star Tick
Watch your dog’s behavior for the next few months. The pathogen transmission for tick-borne diseases can occur in 3-6 hours after the tick bite, with symptoms occurring weeks or even months later.
If you suspect your dog may have a tick-borne illness, watch out for:
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen joints
- Lameness lasting 3-4 days
- Reluctance to move
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Neurological problems (seizures are uncommon but can happen)
If you notice these symptoms after a tick bite, your dog may be experiencing the effects of a tick-borne disease like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, or Anaplasmosis to name a few. These require veterinary care and may jeopardize your pet’s health, so see your vet if you notice any of these symptoms after a tick bite.
Where are ticks found?
Spring and summer are prime tick seasons, but ticks can survive year-round in areas where the ground temperature is above 45 degrees. If you’re not sure whether or not your area is an active tick habitat, Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) has interactive maps that can help you.
Dogs can pick up ticks if they spend a lot of time outdoors in tall grass, wooded areas, at the beach, or where the humidity is high with year-round warm temperatures. Ticks love warm, moist environments, and they’re very efficient at finding a host.
Needless to say, ticks are vile little creatures and our dogs are better off without them. Let’s look at some ways you can prevent ticks from attaching to your dog during outdoor adventures.
Tick bite prevention for dogs
During prime tick seasons and in areas where they’re prevalent, it’s important to check for ticks daily and remove them quickly. The longer they remain, the more likely they are to wreak havoc on your dog’s body.
Luckily, there are tick prevention tools available. Talk to your vet to find the best option for your dog.
Here are a few common tick preventatives:
Topical flea and tick treatments: These are topical applications absorbed through the skin. These are easy to administer and effective, however, always talk to your vet before you use a topical flea and tick treatment. Some dogs may experience side effects.
Tick collars: Good for dogs that can’t tolerate spot-on treatments. These can be effective for single-coated or light-coated dogs, but dogs with thick undercoats may not find them as effective for tick control.
Oral medications: These work very well, but may not be appropriate for all dogs. Your veterinarian will know if your dog is a suitable candidate for oral tick medications.
Tick sprays: Apply sprays directly onto your dog’s coat prior to going outdoors or before a hike in the woods. Check the directions for the period of effectiveness and how often you can use it.
Tick shampoos: Shampoos can help during spring and summer when ticks are most active. They repel ticks from hitching a ride on your dog when outdoors. Follow manufacturer instructions or vet recommendations for frequency.
House and lawn treatments: Keeping your grass mowed and bushes trimmed can make it harder for ticks to dwell in your yard.
There are also some natural methods for repelling ticks in your yard. Here are two:
Nematodes – These are worm-like organisms that live in the soil and feed on tick larvae. You can purchase them at any garden supply store or also on Amazon. You add water to the nematodes to rehydrate them, then spray them on your yard.
Diatomaceous Earth – DE is fossilized remains of tiny aquatic creatures ground into a fine powder. To you and me, the powder is very soft and fine, but it’s deadly for ticks. The tiny shards of powder scrape their exoskeletons, causing them to dry out or dehydrate quickly. It’s gentle enough to be used as a flea control on kittens and puppies, too. Bonus? Diatomaceous earth minerals are great for your yard!
Worry-free adventures are possible
Talk to your vet about which flea and tick preventative options are best for your dog and “de-tick” your yard as much as possible.
If your dog gets a tick, remember that removing them is easy, so long as you use the right tools and exercise care. And if you aren’t ready to come face to face with a tick, it’s perfectly fine to call in the calvary (your veterinarian) to remove it from your dog’s skin.
Though ticks are a real concern, they shouldn’t stop you from enjoying outdoor adventures with your beloved tail-wagger. That’s why Pumpkin’s preventive care pack for dogs, a non-insurance optional add-on, fully refunds two vaccines and one tick & heartworm disease test for dogs each year. Get the full scoop on the benefits of preventive essentials here.
*Pumpkin Pet Insurance policies do not cover pre-existing conditions. Waiting periods, annual deductible, co-insurance, benefit limits and exclusions may apply. For full terms, visit pumpkin.care/insurancepolicy. Products, discounts, and rates may vary and are subject to change. Pumpkin Insurance Services Inc. (Pumpkin) (NPN#19084749) is a licensed insurance agency, not an insurer. Insurance is underwritten by United States Fire Insurance Company (NAIC #21113. Morristown, NJ), a Crum & Forster Company and produced by Pumpkin. Pumpkin receives compensation based on the premiums for the insurance policies it sells. For more details visit pumpkin.care/underwriting-information and pumpkin.care/insurance-licenses.