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Yuck! I Just Found A Tick On My Dog! Should I Be Worried? How Do I Safely Remove It?

Find out what problems ticks cause and how to safely remove them should one end up on your pet. Veterinarian Rebecca MacMillan helps you understand when it's time to take your dog to the vet for a creepy crawly bite.

Dr. Rebecca MacMillan

Last Updated: March 15, 2022 | 6 min read

Brown dog with person showing tick in fur

This article was written by a veterinarian, but it should not serve as a substitute for a visit with a local vet. Note: Clicking on links in this article could provide more product information and customer reviews. If you make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

BestIf you’ve found a tick on your dog, you are probably reading this because you want to know what to do next. We explore the safe way to remove a tick, and share details about this parasite, including the risks it presents to both you and your pet.

Ticks are a type of parasite that survives by feeding on the blood of various mammal species, including deer, rabbits, sheep, and dogs. Ticks also bite and feed on humans. Ticks belong to the arachnid family, along with spiders. They have eight legs and a rounded body that gradually stretches and enlarges as it fills with blood.

Ticks don’t jump or fly – instead, they sit and wait on long grass or shrubs until an animal brushes past. Here they climb or drop into the animal’s coat and quickly attach, burying their mouthparts into the animal’s skin. Ticks are more common in woodland or grasslands, especially during warmer months when the weather is wet or humid.

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What Problems Do Ticks Cause?

Close up of tick on dog's white fur
Ticks can cause localized irritation and spread disease to both people and animals.

There are a large variety of different tick species found in the US, but the majority of tick-borne diseases are spread by three main tick groups: black-legged ticks (including the deer tick), dog ticks, and lone star ticks.

Ticks can carry many bacterial and parasitic diseases. Some of these take one or two days to transfer to your pet, while others can occur within a matter of hours. The diseases most commonly seen in dogs include –

    • Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. It is spread by the deer tick, also known as the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), mainly in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and Midwest.
    • Ehrlichiosis is caused by the bacterium Ehrlichia canis, spread by the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), and deer tick. The disease is most commonly seen in the Southwest and Gulf Coast.https://www.msdvetmanual.com/dog-owners/disorders-affecting-multiple-body-systems-of-dogs/ehrlichiosis-and-related-infections-in-dogs
    • Canine anaplasmos is caused by two different types of bacteria – Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Anaplasma platys. It is most commonly seen in California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Northeast and is spread by deer ticks. 
    • Rocky Mountain spotted fever is caused by a bacterium called Rickettsia rickettsii, which is seen in the Southeast and South Central US but has been reported in multiple locations. The American dog tick and brown dog tick are responsible for spreading this disease.
    • Canine babesiosis is caused by a protozoan parasite that can be carried and transmitted by ticks. This protozoan attacks the red blood cells in the body, causing anemia.
  • Canine Bartonellosis is a disease caused by the bacterium Bartonella spp. Though unproven, it is thought that ticks spread this disease.

What Are Symptoms Of Tick-borne Disease In Dogs?

The symptoms of this tick-borne disease vary depending on the type of bacteria or parasite your dog has been infected with. The most common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Lameness or stiffness (which could be intermittent)
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Pale (or yellowed) gums
  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Bleeding issues
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Neurological issues

If your dog shows any of these symptoms, be sure to take them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. The more promptly treatment is started, the better the outcome is.

How Do I Safely Remove A Tick?

Human hands with gloves on using silver tweezers to remove dog adult tick from the fur
Ticks can carry disease, so it is important to remove them as soon as possible.

It is important to do this safely to limit any risk to your dog. If you squeeze or pull at the tick, you could distress it. This causes the tick to regurgitate blood and saliva back into your dog, along with potentially harmful bacteria. Inappropriate removal also means you might leave the head or mouthparts behind, causing infection.

Here’s how to remove a tick:

  1. Part your dog’s fur to expose the tick. You could wet the fur with a little warm water to help keep it out of the way.
  2. Use a tick removal tool that slides gently underneath the tick. Twist the tick remover carefully while supporting the tick’s body in the hook, so the tick lets go.
  3. Put the tick in a secure container, preferably with some alcohol in it, and dispose of it in the garbage. If you let the tick go, it could wander off in your home or garden, laying eggs.
  4. Clean the area with some dog-safe antiseptic solution.
  5. Check your pet carefully for any more ticks, looking particularly at his tummy, legs, feet, ears, and face.
  6. Wash your hands with warm soapy water.
  7. Monitor your pet for signs of ill health, seeking help if there are any problems.

If you are still unsure how to remove a tick, take your dog to your local vet, where a veterinary technician can help you.

Never try and suffocate the tick with petroleum jelly or burn it off, as these methods also increase the risk of bacteria being transmitted to your dog.

When Should I Take My Dog To The Vet?

Doctor and assistant checking up golden retriever dog in vet clinic
Take your dog to a veterinarian if you are unsure how to safely remove a tick.

Vets are able to do it safely and show you the technique for future reference. You should also take your dog to your veterinarian if they are showing any signs of ill health following removal of a tick but especially if they are showing symptoms that correlate with tick-borne disease. This would include lameness, stiffness, inappetence, fever, and lethargy. If your vet has concerns about your dog following their examination, they may recommend some lab work, usually blood tests.

The treatment depends on the underlying disease but could involve extended courses of antibiotics. Some animals may need hospitalization for intravenous fluids and monitoring if they are very unwell. Sadly, however, treatment is not always successful.

Should I Be Worried If I Found A Tick On My Dog?

While a tick-borne disease is a possibility, it is not a definite outcome of a tick bite. So, you should be aware of the diseases and the signs to look out for, but it is not necessarily the case that your dog becomes unwell. Just ensure you take your dog to the vet as soon as possible if they do show signs of ill health, as the earlier the problem is diagnosed, the more successful the treatment is.

How Do I Prevent My Dog From Getting Ticks?

There are a variety of products that repel ticks or kill them if they attach to your pet. Topical spot-on style treatments, tablets, and collars exist to help prevent tick problems from happening in the first place. Frontline is a popular choice among U.S. pet owners. Speak to your veterinarian for more information on what might be most suitable for your pet.

Consider avoiding walks in areas popular with ticks, such as woodlands and grasslands, particularly those that are populated by livestock like sheep, cattle, or deer. Check your pet for ticks regularly as part of their daily grooming is recommended so that you can promptly remove any that are found. The sooner they are removed, the less likely they are to transmit disease.

Be aware that people can get ticks as well as pets. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants to cover exposed skin helps, as the use of insect repellents.

Consider A Preventative Care Plan

Many pet insurance companies offer wellness care plans that help you cover preventative items like annual vet checkups and flea and tick preventative medications. Pets Best is one of the companies that offers this add-on plan in addition to pet health insurance to cover unexpected medical needs like accidents, allergies, and cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to get rid of a tick on a dog?

It is best to use a proper tick tool to remove a tick safely from your pet. Dispose of the tick carefully, and wash your hands after handling it. Never be tempted to try and suffocate or burn ticks, as this makes them more likely to release infectious diseases into your pet.

Where do ticks hide on dogs?

Ticks tend to attach to the areas of the body that brush against foliage. This includes your dog’s tummy, ears, face, legs, and paws. Ticks can hide in between toes, skin folds, and the creases between your dog’s legs and his body, so make sure you check your pet thoroughly.

Does apple cider vinegar kill ticks on dogs?

It is not advised to use apple cider vinegar on ticks. While they might find it unpleasant, you also risk distressing the tick, causing it to release more bacteria or protozoan parasites into your dog. Stick to using a tick hook and veterinary-recommended preventative tick treatments instead.

What to do if your dog has Lyme disease?

If your dog is showing symptoms of Lyme disease, such as lameness, fever, and swollen lymph nodes, then you should take him to your veterinarian. They examine your dog and run some tests to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment usually involves antibiotics and pain relief, as well as hospitalization in some cases.

Final Thoughts

Ticks are blood-sucking parasites that attach to animals to feed. If your dog has one, then make sure you remove it carefully and promptly to reduce the risk of bacteria spreading to your pet. If you walk in an area with high levels of ticks, then you should use a preventative anti-tick treatment for your dog. Speak to your veterinarian if your dog is showing any signs of ill health following a tick bite.

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety or care advice. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, insurance expert, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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