How To Safely Remove A Tick From A Dog (Video): With Vaseline, Tweezers, Embedded Ticks; From Nose, Head & More

This content was reviewed by veterinarian Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM.

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person holding fur of a dog with a tick stuck on skin

As dog owners, we all have to deal with cruddy critters, and ticks on dogs are unfortunate but common occurrences. Experts say you should remove ticks on your dog as soon as you spot them to reduce the chance of disease. We’ll tell you how to safely remove a tick from a dog and give you tips on disease symptoms to watch out for, how to prevent ticks and more.

“Many people search the internet for ways to remove a tick. This can be dangerous, as many methods are not safe,” says  Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS. “Agitating the tick can make them vomit, which makes it far more likely that they’ll spread disease to your pet. This is the safest way to remove a tick to reduce the chance of them spreading disease.”

How To Get A Tick Off A Dog

tick twister and tweezers

The best way to remove a tick from a dog is to use needle-nose tweezers or a tick removal tool like the Tick Twister. Here are the steps to remove a tick safely from your dog.

Tip: Most household tweezers have wide, blunt tips that could end up squeezing or tearing the tick and risk spreading infectious substances into the bite wound. So make sure to use fine-point tweezers.

  1. Spread your dog’s fur away from the tick
  2. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, being careful not to squeeze the tick so hard that you break off the barbed mouth of the tick
  3. With firm pressure, gently pull straight upward in a slow, steady motion
  4. Place the tick in isopropyl alcohol to kill it
  5. Wash your hands thoroughly
  6. Clean the bite site with isopropyl alcohol
  7. Clean your tweezers or tool with alcohol
  8. Make a note of the bite date and the appearance of the tick (in case your dog develops any disease symptoms, this can be helpful for your veterinarian)

Watch A Vet Remove A Tick With A Twisting Tool

Don’ts With Tick Removal

Are you wondering how to remove a tick from a dog without tweezers or another dog tick removal tool? Although you may hear about some other methods, they’re not recommended and can actually be harmful to your dog.

Some people claim that smothering the embedded tick with petroleum jelly (like Vaseline), rubbing alcohol, or essential oils will make the tick back out of your dog’s skin. This is a myth, and experts warn against these methods. While “drowning” the tick could help remove the body, the tick’s barbed mouth may stay embedded in your dog. And some experts even say using petroleum jelly and other smothering agents can cause the tick to secrete infectious substances from its gut into your dog.

How To Remove A Tick Head From A Dog

remedy and recovery wound and infection medication

What do you do if the tick’s “head” gets stuck in your dog after removing the body? While the eye and mouth area resembles an insect head, ticks do not technically have heads.

But if a portion of the tick remains after removing most of it, this is likely the barbed mouth. Experts say not to remove it yourself. Digging around in your dog’s skin can increase the risk of a skin infection (and it’s unpleasant for your pup).

Instead, it’s best to let your dog’s body naturally expels or dissolve the tick “head.” Once most of the body is gone, the risk of infection from a tick-borne disease is low. If you want to take an extra measure, you can apply an antibiotic ointment to the site, just in case.

What Do I Do After Removing A Tick?

After tick removal, keep an eye on your dog to make sure he’s not showing any symptoms of a tick-borne disease. Depending on the disease, symptoms could appear within a few days or take up to weeks or months to appear.

Symptoms to watch out for also depend on the disease, but here are some general tick-borne disease signs. If you notice any of these signs, be sure to consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Joint pain or swollen joints
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures (in rare cases)

When you talk with your vet, mention that you removed a tick from your dog. Your vet might want to see what the tick looks like to determine the type of tick and what disease the tick might have transmitted to your dog.

What Do Ticks Do To Dogs?

Ticks carry various infectious organisms that infect thousands of pets, people, and other animals every year. The most prevalent tick-borne diseases that affect dogs are Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Bartonellosis, and Hepatozoonosis. All of these can make your dog sick.

Further, your dog could carry a tick that contains the Powassan virus, which is often fatal in humans. 

Once a tick bites its victim, it can transmit the disease as soon as three to six hours. So, checking for ticks regularly and removing them as soon as possible can help reduce the chance that your dog will become ill.

How Do Dogs Get Ticks?

Where do ticks come from, and how do dogs get them? There are hundreds of tick species worldwide; however, a small percentage actually bite and infect dogs and people. The most common tick species that affect dogs in the U.S. are the American dog tick, the deer or black-legged tick, the brown dog tick, and the lone star tick.

Ticks can live hardily in many different environments — woods, lawns, beach grass, and even urban areas. Ticks can fall from trees or bushes onto your dog or simply crawl onto your dog from grass. They may crawl around on your dog for a while before burrowing their mouths into the skin to feed on your dog’s blood.

What Does A Tick Look Like On A Dog?

Ticks are arachnids and resemble small spiders with eight legs and no antennae. They can be black, brown, or tan. Adult ticks range in size from 1mm to 1cm, depending on the type of tick. Ticks in the early developmental larvae and nymph stages are smaller, ranging from 0.5mm to 1mm (larvae and nymphs also embed and feed). Embedded ticks on dogs often swell up as they feed. Fully engorged adult ticks can balloon up to 2/3 of an inch in diameter.

The image shows you what a tick looks like on a dog. When they’re embedded, the legs and body protrude out of your dog’s skin, so they appear and feel like an external bump (similar to a skin tag).

How To Check Your Dog For Ticks (A Vet’s Expert Opinion)

It’s usually far easier to feel a tick than to see one. You can check for ticks by running your hands through your pet’s fur, feeling with your fingertips,” says Woodnutt. “Inspect any small bumps closely by parting the fur. In dogs, the best places to check are behind the ears, through the fur of the neck, in the skin folds of the armpit and groin, and between the toes. In cats, ticks tend to gravitate towards the back but can also be found around the head and neck. You should also check the ear flaps and just inside the ear, as some ticks prefer to attach here.”

Check your pup for ticks every day, especially after spending time outdoors. Ticks are hardy and can live in cold temperatures, so it’s vital to check year-round. Ticks prefer to attach themselves to areas around a dog’s head, neck, ears, paws, armpits, and groin area, but you can find them anywhere on a dog’s body.

Run your fingers through your dog’s fur with gentle pressure to feel for any small bumps, paying particular attention to the areas we mentioned above. Also, make sure you check inside your dog’s ears, on eyelids, under the collar, and between claws.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the questions our readers ask most often about ticks on dogs.

How Long Do Ticks Stay On Dogs?

If you don’t find ticks on your dog and remove them, they usually stay until they finish feeding and drop off on their own. Feeding usually lasts several days but can last up to two weeks.

What Does A Tick Bite Look Like On A Dog?

Once ticks detach (or after you remove them), they often leave a small red bump that resembles a mosquito bite. However, tick bites aren’t always easy to spot, particularly on dark-haired or thick-coated dogs. These bumps usually resolve themselves over a few days.

What Happens If A Dog Eats A Tick?

Tick bites itch, so your dog could accidentally eat a tick if he’s chewing in the area. But don’t worry. If your dog eats a tick, he may vomit, but he won’t become infected with a tick-borne illness. The stomach lining will help protect your pup.

What If I Find A Dried Dead Tick On My Dog?

If the dried dead tick on your dog is still embedded, follow the removal steps above. It is possible to transmit disease still, so remove it as soon as you discover it.

How Common Are Ticks On Pets?

According to Woodnutt, “A number of studies have shown that there’s been an increase in the abundance of ticks in recent decades. In addition, ticks appear to be spreading out from their traditional geographical areas, especially toward the north. It’s assumed that this is due to climate change. Still, it’s possible that other things (like deer farming, increased movement of animals, and changes in habitat management) could be contributing, too.”

“Unfortunately, good studies looking at historical tick bite frequency are unavailable, so it’s hard to track whether tick attachments have increased. We’re also becoming more aware of the implications of tick infestation, so we might be spotting and reporting more ticks. However, with more ticks around, it stands to reason that more bites are happening, and it’s definitely something to be aware of,” says Woodnutt.

Are Certain Dog Breeds More Prone To Ticks?  

Studies have shown that some dog breeds are more prone to getting ticks than others, although a lot of this also depends on lifestyle. Longer-coated dogs are twice as likely to get ticks, perhaps because ticks find it easier to attach and hide or because dogs find it harder to groom ticks off themselves. Toy breeds are less likely to get ticks, probably because of the areas in which they are walked and the type of exercise they do – they may be more likely to walk around a park on a paved surface than run through the undergrowth. 

How To Prevent Ticks

One of the best ways to prevent ticks from hosting on your dog is by using a tick and flea prevention product year-round. Our experts have chosen the best tick and flea prevention products, including topicals, shampoos, and sprays. Or ask your vet for his recommendations.

It’s also essential to keep your grass mowed as short as possible and remove brush, leaf litter, and tall grasses from your yard to control areas where ticks like to live.

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