Spotting a tick creeping through your pet’s fur, or worse, attached to their skin is enough to make your own skin crawl. These bloodsucking parasites do more than just give you a creepy-crawly feeling. They can transmit a multitude of serious diseases that can have lifelong negative effects on your pet’s health. If you find a tick on your pet, you must act before the pest takes a blood meal and transmits pathogens to your furry pal. Rather than panicking, follow our Oak Creek Veterinary Care team’s step-by-step guide on what to do if you discover a tick on your pet.

Step 1: Identify the tick on your pet

Ticks come in a range of sizes and colors, and the number of legs they have varies based on their life stage. Larvae have six legs, and nymphs and adults have eight legs. A female tick becomes engorged when they feed on a pet, and their body can become much larger, taking on a grey appearance. 

If you think you see a tick on your pet, look closely to verify that it is indeed a tick, not a skin tag, bump, or nipple. Try to identify the tick species, because each species carries certain pathogens. The most common ticks found in Wisconsin include:

  • Black-legged ticks — Black-legged (i.e., deer) ticks transmit Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness that can equally affect dogs and people. While cats can technically contract Lyme disease, researchers have not recorded any cases outside of a laboratory setting. Black-legged ticks can also transmit ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis. Adult female ticks are easily distinguished from other ticks by their orange-red body surrounding a black scutum.
  • American dog ticks — American dog (i.e., wood) ticks most commonly transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Female ticks have a large, off-white scutum against a dark brown body.
  • Lone star ticks — Lone star ticks primarily transmit ehrlichiosis to pets. Female lone star ticks have a large, diamond-shaped brown scutum that has a single white dot.

Step 2: Gather pet tick-removal supplies

Rather than using your fingers to rip a tick off your pet, gather the appropriate supplies. Disposable gloves, fine-tipped tweezers or a tick-removal tool, and an antiseptic cleanser are essential.

Step 3: Have a helper restrain your pet

Extracting a tiny object such as a tick off a moving, fur-covered target is challenging. Ask another adult to hold your pet still and part the fur so you can clearly see the tick on your dog’s or cat’s skin. Removing the tick is a precise procedure, so provide your pet with tasty treats to help distract them throughout the process.

Step 4: Remove the tick carefully from your pet’s skin

Grasp the tick’s head firmly, as close as possible to your pet’s skin without pinching it. Then, pull back steadily without twisting or jerking to ensure you pull the tick out cleanly. Inspect the bite wound for any remaining mouthparts, and remove those as well. Avoid squeezing the tick’s body, as this can cause the pest to inject pathogens into your pet.

Step 5: Disinfect your pet’s tick bite wound

Use antiseptic cleanser to disinfect the bite wound and help prevent your pet from developing a skin infection. To kill the tick, place it in a container filled with rubbing alcohol. Once you have completed the tick-removal process, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly.

Step 6: Monitor your pet for health issues

Because a tick-borne illness can take weeks to months to develop, you may have difficulty linking your pet’s current illness with a past tick bite. In addition, many pets never develop signs, but become pathogen carriers for the rest of their lives. In fact, only 5% to 10% of dogs infected with the Lyme bacterium develop obvious disease. Tick-borne illnesses can also lead to neurologic problems, kidney disease, and a wide range of other issues, so always keep in mind that any change in your pet’s health may be the result of a tick bite. In addition, after you have removed a tick from your pet’s skin, keep an eye out for the following common tick-borne illness signs:

  • Lameness
  • Sore, swollen joints
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Abnormal bleeding or bruising

Step 7: Help your pet avoid future tick troubles

If you find a tick on your pet, you must step up your tick-prevention game by ensuring you remember to administer their veterinary-prescribed tick preventive year-round without missing a dose, which can create a gap in your dog’s or cat’s tick protection. In addition, avoid prime tick habitats when walking your dog by staying away from tall grass, brush, and wooded areas. At home, remove leaf litter and yard debris to discourage wildlife, which are primary tick hosts. Finally, check your pet regularly for ticks, especially when you come into the house after spending time outdoors.

Ticks can transmit some nasty diseases to your pet, so ensure your four-legged friend is safe from tick-borne illnesses by administering their veterinarian-recommended tick prevention year-round. To discuss your pet’s best tick preventive options, call our Oak Creek Veterinary Care team, and we will help ensure your furry pal stays safe and healthy.