Though you may be vigilant and take every precaution before heading out, both you and your beloved canine are likely to collect a few ticks while spending time outdoors. Ticks don’t often begin their meal right away, so they may not be attached or have bitten you when you discover one on yourself or your dog. If the tick has already attached, you should follow these steps to promptly—and properly—remove the tick.
How Do I Safely Remove a Tick?
Step 1: Gather your supplies:
- Pointed tweezers
- Rubbing alcohol
- Small container or vial with lid
Step 2: Put on protective gloves to avoid getting any infection-carrying fluids on your skin.
Step 3: With pointed tweezers, grasp the tick’s head as close to the skin as possible.
Step 4: Firmly, but gently, pull the tick outward.
- Do not twist, yank, or crush the tick.
- If any parts of the tick are left behind, consult your doctor or veterinarian.
- You can use a tick removal tool in lieu of tweezers. Follow the directions provided with the tool, as each tool may be different. Some are designed to grab and twist, while others may pull the tick out.
Step 5: Submerge the entire tick in rubbing alcohol to kill it. Do not crush the tick.
- Consult your doctor or your dog’s veterinarian about sending the tick for testing. She will make a recommendation based on the prevalence of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses in your area.
Step 6: Clean the affected area with soap and water and swab with antiseptic wipes or a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol.
Step 7: Dispose of your gloves and wash your hands.
- DO grasp the tick as close to the head as possible
- DO pull firmly to remove the entire tick
- DO consult your doctor or veterinarian for next steps
- DO wear insect repellent or insect-repelling clothing while hiking
- DO use regular flea and tick preventative for your dog, as recommended by your veterinarian
- DO check everyone, including your dog, for ticks immediately after hiking or visiting an area where ticks may be present
- DO NOT twist, jerk, tug, or crush the tick
- DO NOT use your fingernail to try to remove the tick
- DO NOT use lit matches, petroleum jelly, nail polish, or other folk remedies to remove a tick—the safest method is to use tweezers or a special tick removal tool
About Ticks and Tick-Borne Illness
A tick is a parasite from the arachnid family—related to spiders and mites. They live in wooded or grassy areas, stay active year-round—but especially from April through September—and attach to and feed on the blood of animals and humans. There are hundreds of species of ticks, divided into two types: hard and soft.
Though not all ticks carry disease, tick-borne illnesses can be passed from a tick to an animal or human. Potential illnesses a tick can transmit include Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, among others. Not every tick bite requires treatment, but you should watch for signs of illness after finding a tick on yourself or a pet. There is no Lyme disease vaccine currently on the market for human use, so prevention remains the first defense against tick-related illness.
In a Citizen Science collaboration, ticks were collected and examined to determine the percentage that carried pathogens such as Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease. With more than 16,000 ticks submitted from across the United States, the study determined that 6.5 to 23.1 percent of ticks submitted from the Northeastern USA and 3.3 percent from Western USA tested positive for B. burgdorferi. Co-infections with other pathogens were noted in 0.98 percent of the collected ticks, most commonly Anaplasma phagocytophilum and B. burgdorferi.
If you notice any signs of illness in the weeks after removing a tick, or if a rash or swelling appears, consult your doctor. Lyme disease and other illnesses can take weeks to months to appear in humans or animals.
Signs of illness may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Fever or chills
- Painful joints or muscles
How to Remove a Tick From a Dog
The procedure is basically the same as removing a tick from a human.
Grab some tweezers and settle your dog quietly. A bit of calm petting may help; make sure the tick will be accessible as your dog relaxes.
Part the hair, use the tweezers to grasp the tick near the skin, and pull up with steady pressure. Holding down the skin on either side of the tick may help your dog feel less of a pull—some dogs don’t mind tick removal too much, and some find the sensation objectionable. Either way, it’s over in a jiffy.
Lots of dogs appreciate a quick little rub or scritch at the spot when the tick is out. Your dog may also scratch at the spot over the next couple of days. As with other bug bites, an allergic reaction to a tick bite can make it itchy or red.
If the tick jaws are still embedded in the dog’s skin, don’t worry. The mouthparts cannot transmit disease, and the skin will push them out as it heals—like it does with a splinter.
When you remove a tick, it doesn’t necessarily die, so killing the tick is up to you. Don’t crush it between your fingers, which could coat them with pathogens. Instead, wrap it well in tape, submerge it in rubbing alcohol, or flush it. (Ticks actually don’t drown easily—they can survive a hot-water trip through the washing machine, for example—but they won’t find a host down in the pipes, so the problem is solved.)
Clean the bite, your hands, and the tweezers with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
What a Tick Looks Like on a Dog
Ticks on a dog can be quite difficult to spot. Small ticks may first be felt, rather than seen. If you feel a small bump on your dog’s skin, part the hair and take a look. Small ticks in the nymph stage will look just like a black dot that doesn’t come off.
On short-coated dogs, a slightly larger tick may look like a small disruption in the hair coat—a little tuft of hair that doesn’t quite lie flat. Again, part the hair and take a look. A tick of this size may be more identifiable as a tick. It will be attached at the skin and can move around at the attachment, as if it were on a hinge. The tick may be flat like paper or it may be starting to plump out like an apple seed.
A tick that has been feeding for some time will be quite large and swollen. It will look like a big growth or wart, but smooth, and attached at just one point at the skin. (The technical term for a tick in this stage is the grossest word in tick lingo: engorged.) An engorged tick has been feeding for 5 to 12 days. It is ready to detach and, if female, lay thousands of eggs.
What Does a Tick Bite Look Like on a Dog?
Unless the tick is still attached, it is difficult to spot a tick bite on a dog. You may find a scab, sore, bump, redness, or rash at the site, but spotting an attached tick is more likely than spotting a tick bite. Redness or swelling is a common inflammatory response to tick and other bug bites, and isn’t concerning on its own, but watch for signs of an infection such as heat and pain at the site of the bite. When in doubt, contact your vet for advice.
Should I Remove a Tick From My Dog?
Yes, if you find a tick on your dog you should remain calm, but remove it right away. The longer a tick is attached, the greater its chances of transmitting Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. Removing a tick within 36 hours greatly reduces the chance of Lyme transmission. Talk to your veterinarian to see if he recommends the Lyme disease vaccine for your dog. Removing and killing the tick also prevents it from laying eggs.
What Ticks Carry Lyme Disease?
In the United States, Lyme disease is spread by the blacklegged tick, aka the deer tick, and the Western blacklegged tick. Infections are most common in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, North Central states, and the West Coast of the USA, as these are the areas where the carrier may be located. These are small ticks: Unfed nymphs are about the size of a poppy seed and unfed adults are about the size of a sesame seed. Most cases of Lyme disease are transmitted by nymphs, since the larger adults are more likely to be seen and removed.
Can You Remove a Tick With Petroleum Jelly? Peppermint Oil? Liquid Soap? Dish Soap?
Well, sometimes—but it’s not a good idea.
When you find a tick, the clock is tick…ing. For the best protection against tick-borne diseases, you want to get the tick out as quickly as possible. At their best, home remedies that encourage the tick to “back out” delay the tick’s removal, giving it more time during which it could transmit diseases.
At their worst, these home remedies don’t even work. Some tick species secrete a cement-like substance when they begin feeding that keeps them firmly attached. A tick that’s ‘cemented’ in place simply can’t back out, no matter how much it’s jellied, soaped, or peppermint oiled. (And a slippery tick will also be harder to grab with tweezers, prolonging what doesn’t really have to be an ordeal.)
So the best way to remove a tick is with tweezers.
Is There a Good Way to Remove a Tick Without Tweezers?
Sure—using a tick key, a tick nipper, or a similar product specially made for removing ticks is also effective. Some people actually find these easier to manage on a dog, since these tools eliminate worry about tweezing out hair or accidentally poking your dog with the tweezers. Anxious kids might feel a little more relaxed about these products, too, since the visuals can be less alarming. So special tick removers can be useful, but they are not necessary to remove a tick safely.
Does It Hurt to Remove a Tick?
That depends on whom you ask. On a pain scale, most people find the experience somewhere between “licked by a kitten” (“haha, ow?”) and “bitten by a kitten” (“hey, ouch!”). But either way, it’s over quick.
Here’s what helps, on yourself, your kid, or your dog:
- A lot of times the thought is worse than the deed. If the tick is on you, just pretend it’s a bit of leaf or piece of lint, and pluck it off.
- When it’s time to go for it, don’t hem and haw—just go for it.
- Holding down the skin on either side can reduce the discomfort.
- If your kid or your dog strongly objects to the whole endeavor, distract them from their troubles. Silly cat video or peanut butter bone, anyone?
How to Prevent Ticks
Knowing how to remove a tick is important, but taking steps to prevent, repel, or kill ticks means they never have a chance to attach in the first place. Avoiding areas where ticks are likely to roam isn’t always an option, especially when deer, dogs, and rodents carry them into our yards and living spaces. Instead, take measures to prevent ticks from attaching and remove them ASAP when they do. These quick tips can help keep nasty ticks from infesting your yard or making a feast of you while you’re enjoying the great outdoors.
In the Yard
Not sure if you have ticks in your yard? Use the method researchers do while studying tick populations: tick dragging. Cut a long, wide piece of white or light-colored fabric, secure it to a dowel, make a handle by tying a rope at either end of the dowel, and drag the fabric through the grass. Questing ticks will grab ahold of the fabric as it passes and you can count how many you pick up.
This method will give you an idea of how infested your yard is, and which treatments may be necessary. If you find ticks, remove them from the cloth with tweezers, then submerge them in rubbing alcohol to kill them.
Even if you don’t find ticks when tick dragging or while spending time outdoors, you can take steps to keep your yard tick-free:
- Roll up your sleeves and remove tick habitats like brush, tall grass, and fallen logs.
- Maintain your yard, clean up garden debris, and mow often to keep ticks from moving in.
- Neatly stack firewood to discourage mice from taking up residence within your woodpile: Rodent nests are tick breeding grounds.
- Rake up leaves and old grass and remove fallen branches in the spring and fall—these areas can trap moisture and create a humid environment, a tick’s favorite place to hunker down.
- Consider landscaping options that keep ticks at bay: A gravel barrier between wooded areas and the lawn prevents ticks from traveling into your yard. Wood chips are also an option.
- Opt for grass-free spaces for outdoor gatherings, like patios and decks.
- Situate kids’ play areas away from the woods and use wood chips or alternative ground cover options rather than grass to keep ticks away from the playset and off of kids.
- Tick tubes—purchased, or homemade from toilet paper tubes and pesticide-soaked cotton balls—harness the natural nesting behaviors of rodents. When mice bring treated cotton back to the nest, the permethrin kills ticks where they live and breed. Trace amounts of permethrin on mice also kills ticks trying to hitch a ride. Treatments early in the spring and partway through the summer may reduce tick populations through the year.
Know where ticks live—grassy, wooded, or weedy areas—and avoid them or take precautions before heading out. Bug spray, insect-repelling clothing, and thorough tick checks are the top tools to avoid tick bites while hiking, hunting, camping, or simply enjoying the outdoors. Dress appropriately and take precautions on every outing to prevent ticks:
- Treat your outdoor clothing, boots, and gear with insect repellent or choose Outsmart® clothing made with an odorless bug repellent bonded to the fabric for long-term protection.
- Wear pants tucked into tall socks to keep ticks from climbing inside your pant legs.
- While light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot crawling ticks, there is evidence that ticks are less attracted to dark-colored clothing, making it a better option.
- Keep an eye on where you drop your pack: Avoid places that may be filled with ticks, including grass or near bushes, and opt instead for setting your gear on rocks or dirt.
- Ensure your dog’s flea and tick preventative is up to date to keep pests from hitching a ride home on his fur.
- Check yourself and your dog for ticks often, especially before getting back in the car and as soon as you arrive home.
- Do laundry in reverse to kill any ticks that may have hitched a ride indoors: Dry your clothing on high for at least 10 minutes, then wash. If your clothing is soiled and needs to be laundered first, wash first in hot water, then dry.
Follow steps to keep ticks out of the yard, know how to spot them fast, and use the right repellents and preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of tick bites. Ticks have their place in the web of life…but that place is not in dog or human skin. If one ends up there, use your tweezers to handle what doesn’t have to be a sTICKy situation.