How to Remove a Tick

Recent data shows that tick populations are on the rise.

Today, more than ever, ticks have become a fact of life. Mother Nature endowed these tiny, sometimes dangerous parasites with all the physical attributes they need to survive and thrive: latch on to unsuspecting passerby, firmly attach to their human or animal host, and feed on their blood. Ticks actually secrete a sophisticated, organic “glue” to cement their mouth parts to their host, so removing them can be tricky.

Daily checks and prompt removal of ticks from your dog is especially important to minimize exposure to tick-borne diseases that can be passed on while the tick is attached. Below are five steps that can help you safely remove ticks from your dog

Step 1: Check

Make it a habit to check your dog daily for ticks, especially if she spends time outdoors in wooded or grassy areas. Ticks can be found in any outdoor location with vegetation, even in manicured Suburbia. And, contrary to popular myth, ticks don’t hibernate and can remain active year-round - even in colder climates - if temperatures rise above freezing.

Step 2: Detect

Run your hands over your dog feeling for lumps or small bumps under her hair. Remember that a tick can be as tiny as a pinhead or as large as a lima bean if it is engorged. Ticks are especially fond of a dog’s head and neck, ears, face and belly, so check these areas thoroughly.

Step 3: Remove

If you find a tick, use fine-pointed tweezers (curved are best) to grasp firmly at the point of attachment.

  • Do not grab the tick by its body; you don’t want to accidentally squeeze, crush or puncture the tick because its fluids may contain harmful bacteria that can enter your dog’s bloodstream.
  • Pull firmly enough to lift the skin but don’t twist or jerk the tick as this might cause some of the tick to break off and remain embedded.
  • Apply gentle, but steady, pressure to pull the tick straight out from the skin.

Step 4: Dispose

Place the tick in a plastic bag and freeze it, or drop it in a bottle half-full of rubbing alcohol. Note the date and location of the bite on your calendar. This information can be important later on if your dog shows symptoms consistent with tick disease.

Step 5: Cleanse
Cleanse the affected area with mild soap and water, then a disinfectant to prevent infection. Be sure you wash your hands, too.

The “Do Nots” of Tick Removal:

  • Never burn the tick with a hot match or cigarette: Once embedded, it can take time for a tick to detach itself from its host, even if it’s strongly motivated. Burning the tick may kill it, but won’t make it fall off any faster and you’ll pose unnecessary risk to your dog.
  • Don’t smother the tick: Ticks can live several hours without air. Attempting to smother a tick with Vaseline, nail polish etc. will only extend the window of opportunity for the tick to transmit dangerous bacteria to its host.
  • Don’t stress or traumatize the tick: Any of the above methods can cause the tick to regurgitate its stomach “guts” (which may be filled with dangerous bacteria) back into its host, increasing the risk of infection.

How quickly must a tick be removed? Remove the tick as soon as you find it because you can never be sure how long it has been attached. Generally, it takes at least 24 hours for an infected tick to transmit a bacterial infection to its host.

What if some of the tick is left behind? The short answer is, probably nothing. Even if you carefully remove the body and head, it is not unusual for the mouth (called the hypostome) to remain attached. Eventually the body will naturally “eject” the remains. Just be sure to wash the area with soap and water to prevent infection.