As much as I love warm weather, the one thing that always makes me anxious each summer is the thought of ticks. Growing up in the Northeast, we were taught at a young age how to spot them- on ourselves and our dog.
As a large dog owner, checking your dog often for ticks is a must. If you’re unsure how to find and remove ticks from your dog’s body, check out my guide to removing ticks below.
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Removing ticks is something that almost every dog owner will have to do at some point in their lives. Ticks are tough, resilient creatures, and they have a knack for finding a way to get on our dogs no matter what we do. After all, it’s how they survive.
Even when being diligent about keeping our dogs on flea and tick preventative, it can still happen.
An extra warm winter leading to early spring is often the culprit of ticks getting on dogs before owners have had a chance to put on the flea and tick medication. In any event, it pays to know the proper procedure for removing ticks.
It’s especially important for large breed dog owners to know how to spot and remove ticks, because most larger dogs enjoy romping outside and getting into any and everything possible. Dogs need that kind of play time and exploration.
Just be sure to keep them on flea and tick preventative and check them thoroughly after every outdoor excursion to help keep them tick free.
Everything You Need to Know About Removing Ticks
Before we talk about removing ticks, let’s talk about where they can be found and why they’re so bad. It goes far beyond just being gross.
Ticks actually carry nasty diseases and bacteria which are harmful to our dogs. In addition to that, knowing where ticks are can help us avoid them as efficiently as possible.
Where Ticks Live
Ticks are tough, and they’re almost everywhere.
They survive and thrive in nature, as well as urban areas. That sounds like going anywhere at all in the world is a game of dodge the tick, but there are places that ticks prefer to lie in wait for their prey.
It’s important to know them because as an owner of a big dog, chances are your pooch likes to dive into those places.
The preferred areas for ticks are undergrowth in wooded areas, beach grass, the edge of lawns where they meet wild areas, and forests.
Ticks have a very specific look if you can spot them.
That can be a definite “if” because some ticks are almost impossible to see with the naked eye before they begin feeding.
If you do see a suspicious bug on your dog, you’ll know it’s a tick due to its shape. Ticks have oblong, one-piece bodies with eight crab-like legs.
They have small heads and a hard exoskeleton. In fact, a tick’s exoskeleton is so hard that if you try to squish it between your fingers, it won’t work.
In addition to their unique look, ticks have a unique way of maintaining their hold on their host. It buries its mouthpiece into its host to get its blood meal.
It maintains its connection via harpoon-like barbs on its mouth, which when buried into the skin makes it difficult for the tick to be removed.
The real danger of ticks isn’t their feeding, it’s the diseases that they can transmit while feeding.
Every year, ticks infect thousands of animals and people with nasty illnesses. They can transmit these illnesses in as little as three to six hours after attaching to their host, making it even more important to be on constant high alert against them.
The three major tick-borne illnesses are:
– Lyme Disease
A common tick-borne illness in dogs, Lyme disease affects dogs in a variety of ways. Common symptoms of Lyme Disease included fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, lameness, general joint stiffness or pain, and joint swelling.
Lyme Disease can be treated with an antibiotic but if left untreated, it can lead to kidney failure in severe cases.
Spread by microscopic parasites which infect red blood cells, Babesiosis infections range in severity from asymptomatic to life-threatening.
Symptoms of this disease include fever, weakness, lethargy, pale gums and tongue, red or orange urine, jaundice, enlarged lymph nodes, and an enlarged spleen.
Babesiosis can be treated and the symptoms alleviated but in many cases, the infection remains in the dog at a very low level, leading to flare-ups in times of stress.
Caused by the rickettsial organism, Ehrlichiosis is a nasty tick-borne disease. Infected dogs can range in clinical severity from sub-clinical to acute and chronic.
This disease often goes unnoticed by owners, which is what makes it so bad. In healthy dogs, it can be treated or the dog himself may even eliminate the infection on his own.
However, a dog with an impaired immune system can move into a chronic condition. Chronic Ehrlichiosis can have severe symptoms such as anemia, bleeding, lameness, eye hemorrhage or blindness, neurological issues, swollen limbs, and in extremely severe cases, bone marrow failure.
Removing ticks as quickly as possible is essential to a dog’s good health because the three diseases listed above are only the highlights of tick-borne diseases.
These three are the most common but there are actually several others as well.
Even if your dog is on flea and tick preventative, it’s still important to inspect him periodically for ticks, especially after a hike through the woods or a romp in a field.
While it may be hard to spot ticks, it can be done. There are specific areas on a dog’s body that ticks love to nestle themselves into.
Look for ticks on your dog’s head, neck, feet, ears, and even around his rectum. These are the areas where ticks most commonly find purchase on your dog’s body.
That being said, ticks can an do attach themselves on pretty much any part of the body, so don’t overlook other areas of your dog when searching for ticks.
To locate ticks, rub your hands slowly across your dog’s body against the grain of his hair. This allows you to get a good view of his skin.
Pay close attention to anything that even remotely resembles a tick. Even if you think it’s just a small, dark skin tag, give it a good look. It could be a tick.
Pay special attention to the areas of your dog’s body listed above, as these are the hot spots of tick activity on a dog.
Properly Removing Ticks
There are very specific steps to properly removing ticks.
Never, ever just grab them with your fingers and start pulling.
Doing that invariably leads to the tick’s head becoming lodged under the dog’s skin with no way to get it out other than taking your pooch to the vet and having the mouthparts dug out with tweezers and a scalpel.
The Right Tweezers
The best method of removing ticks is using tweezers. However, you need the right tweezers. Don’t rush for your bathroom tweezers.
They typically have blunt tips and aren’t suited for removing an attached tick. Instead, you’ll need fine-pointed tweezers.
These allow for proper placement, making it easier to remove the tick and its mouthparts in one go. An even better tool for removing ticks is a tick removal hook.
These are specially-designed, tweezer-like devices which work by pinching the tick where it is attached to your dog and pulling and twisting in one motion.
Removing the Tick
First, spread the fur away from the tick as much as possible to give yourself a clear view and angle of attack.
Grasp the tick with your fine-tipped tweezers or tick removal tool as close to the skin as possible.
In a gentle, steady motion, pull upward slowly, being sure not to angle the tweezers or tool.
This will ensure the greatest likelihood that the tick and its mouthparts will be removed all at once, preventing further bacteria from seeping into your dog as well as a possible trip to the vet.
After removing the tick, inspect it to be sure that all parts have been removed.
If they have, thoroughly clean the bite area with a disinfectant to ensure that the surrounding skin is clean and prevent bacteria from getting into the small wound left by the tick removal.
Taking Steps to Avoid Removing Ticks
Before we go, let’s talk about how to eliminate as much tick activity on your dog as possible.
As ticks are nasty little critters that spread all sorts of diseases, it’s vital to keep them off of your dog as efficiently as possible.
The best way to do this is to keep your dog on flea and tick preventative during tick season. That means giving them topical or oral flea and tick preventative from March through November at least.
If you live in an exceptionally warm area, that time frame increases to February through December. Owners in tropical locales should keep their pets on preventative year round.
If you give your dog monthly flea and tick preventative, removing ticks should be an extremely rare occurrence. However, it’s important to know how to do it. Now that you do, you can see that it’s not so bad. It just requires a careful hand and knowing what to look for.