Nobody wants to deal with ticks on themselves, their human family, or their pets, but ignorance is not bliss when it comes to these disease-causing parasites. Our Ambleside Animal Hospital team recommends checking your pet for ticks each time you return from the outdoors. Then, what should you do when you find one? Ticks are surrounded by misconceptions, so we’re setting the record straight with this definitive guide of what to do—and not to do—when you find a tick on your pet.

Step #1: Confirm the tick on your pet is actually a tick

Many people see an unfamiliar bump on their pet’s skin that they automatically assume must be a tick. Owners often mistake small skin growths and nipples for ticks, so if you aren’t sure, ask our veterinary team to check the area and remove the tick, if necessary. If you look closely, you will see that ticks have legs, but skin growths do not. And, remember, male pets have nipples, too.

Step #2: Carefully remove the tick from your pet

Removing a tick is far easier than most people believe, and the wives-tale methods you’ve heard in the past can actually do more harm than good. Never attempt to burn, poison, or drown an attached tick, because this increases the likelihood of disease transmission and can make complete removal more difficult.

Ask your veterinarian to demonstrate tick-removal strategies, which include:

  • Using tweezers — Grasp the tick with tweezers as close to your pet’s skin as possible, and slowly and steadily pull the tick straight out, taking care not to crush the tick.
  • Using a tick twister — A tick twister or tick key are specially designed tools for tick removal. Follow the product instructions.

Once you’ve removed the tick, use readers or a magnifying glass, if necessary, and check closely to ensure that the head and mouthparts are intact. A tick’s head is tiny compared to its engorged body, and will often cling to a tiny piece of your pet’s skin or hair. Do not dig for the mouthparts if you cannot see them—instead, use the cleaning and care instructions that follow.

Step #3: Preserve the tick for future identification

Do not crush a removed tick, which can expose you to diseases the tick may be carrying. Instead, keep the tick in a small plastic bag with rubbing alcohol or in the freezer, so you will know the tick’s species and the possible diseases should your pet become sick in the future. Signs may not appear for days after your pet is bitten, so you may forget and not correlate their illness with the bite.

Step #4: Gently clean the tick attachment site on your pet

Cleanse the tick attachment site with mild soap to help to prevent secondary infections. You can also apply a topical antibiotic and/or over-the-counter steroid cream to help prevent infection and soothe inflammation. Tick bites are irritating and a bump will likely form at the attachment site and remain for a few weeks, but this does not necessarily mean the area is infected. However, if you see drainage, or the bump is painful or getting large, contact our veterinary team.

Step #5: Notify our team that a tick bit your pet

Let our team know that your pet was bitten by a tick, so we can document the date in their medical record. Then, if your pet develops illness signs, we can reference the date to determine if the tick bite could be the underlying cause.

Step #6: Keep an eye out for illness signs in your pet

Ticks can carry multiple serious diseases, including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which usually take several hours to a few days for the tick to transmit, so prompt removal is the best defense. If your pet is lethargic, limping, or has enlarged lymph nodes, or other illness signs in the weeks following a tick bite, notify our staff and bring in your pet. You should also contact our team if you notice the bite site appears infected, or if your pet develops hives, itchy skin, or a rash following a bite.

Step #7: Ensure your pet is on effective tick-prevention medication

If your pet isn’t already on a tick prevention medication, now is the time to start. These products are available in oral, spot-on, and collar formulations—ask our team which is best for your pet’s age, lifestyle, and species.

Step #8: Schedule a routine tick-borne disease screening test at least once per year

If your pet is regularly exposed to ticks, we recommend that we run a tick-borne disease screening test combined with their annual heartworm screening. Some pets who are exposed to these diseases do not get sick, and if your pet tests positive, our team can run additional tests to determine if your pet needs treatment.

Tick bites can lead to skin infections, allergic reactions, or serious tick-borne diseases, so you should take every bite seriously and closely monitor your pet afterward. Speak with an Ambleside Animal Hospital team member to learn more about tick-related illness, or call us to schedule your pet’s next routine wellness visit and tick-borne disease screening test.