Have you ever settled down to cuddle with your dog only to discover a suspicious-feeling bump in their coat? Because dogs spend so much time outdoors, it's only natural that at some point, you'll have to deal with removing a tick from your dog.
There are many species of ticks commonly found in the United States, including the deer tick, black-legged tick, brown dog tick, lone star tick, and American dog tick. The actual process of removing a tick isn't too complicated, but because ticks can transmit diseases to dogs and people, it's important to monitor the tick bite site and know how to spot signs of trouble.
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Tips for proper tick removal from a dog
Ticks latch onto your dog by biting through their skin, and then they feed on your pup's blood. If you feel a bump in your dog's fur, pull the fur apart to see if the bump is a tick. As ticks feed, their bodies become engorged. They can vary from the size of a pinhead to the size of a small grape, approximately a half-inch long. Most ticks are black or dark brown, and you may be able to see the tick's legs while it's attached to your dog.
It's essential to remove a tick quickly since ticks can transmit disease to your dog within three to six hours of a bite. To remove a tick, use tweezers or a tick scoop and pull the tick out by the head rather than its body. If you try to remove the tick by putting pressure on its body, the contents of the tick's stomach may be squeezed into your dog's bloodstream, increasing the risk of tick-borne illnesses. This may include tick-borne pathogens. Use a firm, upward motion to remove the tick and try not to leave any parts in your dog's body.
In addition to your dog's safety, you also need to protect yourself when removing a tick. Avoid removing ticks with your bare hands. If you are handling a tick, it is recommended that you wear gloves. People who have breaks or lesions in their skin may be exposed to tick-borne pathogens when handling a tick, some of which are zoonotic.
If you haven't removed a tick before or have questions about how to do it properly, it's best to head to your veterinarian's office. Your veterinarian can show you how to properly remove a tick to reduce the chance of transmitting a disease to your dog in the process.
Signs that a dog's tick bite may be infected
Your dog's skin in the area of a tick bite will probably appear a bit red or irritated at first. After you've removed the tick, double-check that no parts of the tick remain in your dog. Then, wash the area with warm, soapy water and treat it with an antiseptic cream to help prevent infection.
You should monitor the tick bite over the next several days since it's possible for the site to become infected. Look for common signs of infection, such as inflammation or a rash in the area of the bite. Your dog may also display fatigue or muscle pain, which can be caused by a reaction to the tick's saliva.
If you notice any of these signs, take your dog to your veterinarian. They will probably prescribe an antibiotic and may decide to test your dog for Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases.
Tick-borne diseases for dogs
If it's been a week since a tick bit your dog and the site is looking good, you may think you're in the clear. However, there are a host of tick-borne diseases transmissible to dogs such as Lyme disease, canine Anaplasmosis, canine Ehrlichiosis, Babesia, Hepatozoon, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The tick bite site may be healing up, but you should still monitor your dog.
Each tick-borne disease has slightly different symptoms, but in general, watch for your dog to develop lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, nose bleeds, lameness or limping, or unusual fatigue. If you notice that your dog is acting strangely, take them to the veterinarian and be sure to mention any recent tick bites. If you can, provide information about when the bite occurred as well as the type of tick (if you could identify it). This information can help your veterinarian more quickly diagnose your dog and get them the treatment they need to start feeling better.
How to prevent dog tick bites
In most cases, your dog will be just fine after a tick bite. Dog owners can reduce their pup's chances of being bitten by using regular flea and tick treatments and by checking their dog thoroughly after going for a walk or playing outside. Pay careful attention when spending time in wooded areas, tall grass, and other common tick-occupied spaces. Talk to your veterinarian about any other recommended best practices for tick prevention in your area. In many areas, tick control should be considered year-round.
If you live in an area where Lyme disease is prevalent or plan on traveling to an area where your dog could be at risk, you may want to consider the Lyme vaccine. Talk to your veterinarian about whether the vaccine is a good choice for your dog.
The bottom line
If you spot a tick on your dog, remove it safely with tweezers or a tick removal tool or visit your veterinarian to have it removed. Watch for signs that your dog's tick bite may be infected, including any redness, irritation, rash, or inflammation. They may also experience muscle pain or fatigue in response to the tick's saliva. If you notice any of these signs or believe that your dog may have an infected tick bite, contact your veterinarian.