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How to Remove a Tick from Your Dog or Cat — What to Do and What NOT to Do

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Ticks are gross, right? But what’s even worse is that they can carry a host of diseases that they can pass along to your pets (and you) if they’re allowed to stay attached for too long! So what’s the best way to remove a tick from your dog or cat? I’m going to outline the process below, as well as provide some handy tools and tips to help you even further.

Things to Avoid When Removing Ticks

There are a couple of things you definitely don’t want to do, or at least try to avoid doing, when removing a tick from your pet.

  • Don’t try to remove an attached tick by burning it with a match or smothering it with Vaseline. Neither will work, both will let the tick stick around longer than desired, and the whole match thing … yeah, those don’t go well next to dog/cat fur and skin.
  • Avoid squeezing the body of the tick when handling it or trying to remove it. Doing so can cause “regurgitation” of the nasty and disease-causing bacteria, protozoa, and other microorganisms from the tick’s gut into your pet’s bloodstream. And these could be the very disease-causing agents you’re trying to protect your pet from in the first place.
  • Don’t handle the tick with bare hands. Ticks don't just transmit diseases to cats and dogs! Depending on the tick type and disease, you could be at risk as well. Wear exam gloves when removing ticks to stay as safe as possible.

How to Remove a Tick

Now that we’ve got the main “don’ts” out of the way, here are the things you DO want to do when removing a tick from your cat or dog:

  • Use a tick-removal tool (your best and easiest option), or a good pair of tweezers or curved hemostats, to remove the tick from as close to the skin (and the tick’s mouthparts) as possible. 
    • If using one of the tick removal tools, be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging for best use.
    • If using tweezers or hemostats, grab the tick’s head as close to your pet’s skin as possible and pull with gentle, steady traction straight back out. Don’t twist. Watch this video to see how:
  • Clean the area of your pet’s skin from where the tick was removed. What you’ll use will be impacted by where on their body the tick was attached, as you’ll be limited to just water if it was near the eye or other sensitive areas. For most other areas on the body, a gentle scrub with an antiseptic scrub like Hibiclens or Povidone Iodine is best (warm, soapy water can work in a pinch, too).
  • Keep the removed tick in a tightly sealed jar or other container full of either rubbing alcohol or soapy water after removal. This is for tick identification, should it become necessary. As different ticks transmit different diseases, and even the developmental life stage of the tick — larva, nymph, adult — can impact the likelihood of it spreading disease. (If you’re not noticing any concerning signs – see what these signs are below – after 2 to 3 weeks, you can discard the tick. If you are seeing any concerning signs in your dog, then bring them and the tick(s) to your veterinarian for evaluation and testing).
  • Keep a close eye on your pet following tick removal, both the site on the skin from where the tick was removed and also just generally with their appetite, energy, any limping, or other concerning changes. Changes in the way your pet is eating, drinking, acting, or getting around could be related to the tick and should be checked out by your veterinarian. Usually such signs, if related to the tick, are observed within 2 to 3 weeks. Note that it typically isn't recommended to treat a dog with antibiotics just because they've been exposed to ticks, as there are many factors involved in whether or not the dog will become clinically infected with the Lyme disease-causing bacteria, or any other pathogens. That said, if you're overly concerned, you can always bring your dog (and the tick) to your vet when you first notice/remove the tick and discuss options and recommendations with your veterinarian then. 

Ticks Are Found Where?

Ticks are found all across the country, though the type(s) of ticks that are most common will depend on the geographical region and the environment you're in. Here's a CDC map that shows the typical distribution of many different tick species throughout the country. Ticks are most commonly encountered in grassy or wooded areas, including sand dunes with tall beach grasses. Hiking and camping in the woods is a prime time for being exposed to ticks.
 

Watch for Ticks and Use Preventatives

If you’ve found a tick (or several) on your pets, it means that ticks are in your environment. Be vigilant about checking your pets and yourself for ticks regularly and take precautions to keep ticks out of your yard

Also, talk to your veterinarian about safe and effective tick preventatives for your pets. There really are some safe, highly effective, and easy-to-administer tick preventatives for pets available these days!

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Hiking with Your Dog — Preparation and Trail Tips
Fleas! How to Prevent and Treat Your Dog's Greatest Nuisance
Bee & Wasp Stings — Be(e) Prepared
Paws & Play Podcast: Fleas, Ticks, and Mange - Oh My!
 

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Topics: cat first aid, dog first aid, Parasites, Parasite Preventatives, Outdoor cats, Dogs Outdoors, Ticks, Hiking

Please do not ask emergency or other specific medical questions about your pets in the blog comments. As an online informational resource, Preventive Vet is unable to and does not provide specific medical advice or counseling. A thorough physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinary-patient-client relationship is required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet is having an emergency or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic medical conditions, please contact or visit your veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.

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