If your dog spends time outside – and especially if you take them camping, hiking in the woods, or hanging at the lake with you – it’s wise to get in the habit of checking their body for ticks.
Ticks are not only gross, but they can also transmit bacterial diseases like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis, which can cause severe illness to both pets and people. Symptoms can include severe weakness, lethargy, and even destruction of the pet’s blood cells. Generally, ticks need to be attached to the host for 24-48 hours to infect, so doing a regular check is important. This is easily accomplished by rubbing your hands and fingers through the coat. The tick’s favorite “camping sites” (pun intended) are around the neck, ears (inside and outside), between the eyes, and even between their toes. So, be thorough with your search.
If you find a tick, you need to remove it immediately. All you need is a good pair of fine-tipped tweeters. Please do not attempt any of the old-school recommendations like: applying the tip of a hot match (which will apparently make the tick release and run off screaming, I suppose), “drowning” with alcohol, “smothering” with petroleum jelly, applying gasoline (or nail polish, nail polish remover, or turpentine). These don’t help and may actually be harmful to your pet.
Here's what to do if you spot a tick:
1. Use your tweezers (again, fine tipped are preferred), use them to clutch onto the attached tick as close to the mouth-to-skin attachment as possible (to avoid leaving the mouthparts and head lodged in the skin)
2. Pull straight up, forcefully, to remove the tick (no twisting, or shaking). If you feel you haven’t removed the mouthparts, grab and remove the remnants, if possible.
3. Once removed, thoroughly clean the area with warm soap and water, rubbing alcohol, or a good antiseptic wash (like chlorhexidine or betadine).
4. And, although it is very unlikely you can be infected by the removed tick’s discharges, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly as well.
After the tick is removed, it is still important to observe your dog for any signs of tick-borne illness: such as lethargy, weakness, lack of appetite, and/or pale gums (light pink or whitish). If you suspect anything out of the ordinary, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Tick removal is not fun. The best way to avoid it is with a solid prevention strategy. There are very effective topical and oral medications available (and generally non-toxic to humans), and the options just keep getting better – making them easier to use and more effective. There are chewable tablets that provide up to 3 months of tick AND flea prevention and control, all with one dose. More recently, a heartworm preventive has come on the market that also protects against both ticks and fleas – all with an oral, once a month dose. If you live near wooded areas – especially where deer show up for occasional visits – or visit the mountains or lake with your pooch, make sure they have an effective tick shield on board.