Finding a tick on your dog or cat is a common occurrence for owners of outdoor-loving pets. Ticks are prevalent throughout the spring, summer, and fall, particularly in humid, low elevation climates. And tick bites are more than just a nuisance. Many types can also pass on diseases like Lyme, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Removing ticks as soon as they attach can help prevent the transmission of these potentially serious conditions.
What Is a Tick Bite?
Ticks are usually found after they burrow their mouthparts into the host's skin to attach and suck its blood. Look for a black or brown body stuck to the skin to identify the intruder. Once a tick has had its fill, it will drop off, often leaving behind a red, itchy spot or a small scab. Sometimes ticks can be found crawling in your pet's fur before they attach, in which case they can simply be plucked off and flushed down the toilet.
Symptoms of Tick Bites on Pets
After a summer romp in the woods, brush, or grass, you should always perform a tick check on your pet. Feel for and inspect any lumps under that you find, and if your pet is shaking its head or itching itself in one spot, immediately check the vicinity (look in the ears and between footpads) to make sure it's not due to a tick bite.
Symptoms of tick-transmitted diseases vary, but if you notice lameness (which may seem to shift from leg to leg), unexplained bruising or bleeding, swollen lymph nodes, or any other unusual symptoms, talk to your veterinarian and be sure to mention any ticks that you have found in the last few months.
Causes of Tick Bites
Ticks and warm weather go hand in hand, making it almost impossible to evade them altogether. They live in grass, wooded areas, shrubs, and leaf piles just waiting for a host to saunter on by. Ticks need blood to survive and can be attracted to a mammal's breath, movement, body heat, and body odor. They wait in position (called "questing") until the perfect host walks by. Then, with outstretched front legs (ticks can't fly or jump), they climb on and begin feeding as soon as they find a warm, penetrable spot.
Perform a tick check on your pet after coming in from evert outdoor play session. Inspect the whole body but pay special attention to the ears, face, legs, and belly. If you find a tick embedded in the skin, use fine-pointed tweezers or a tick remover tool to grasp as close to the skin as possible at the point of attachment. Use a steady and firm grip to slowly pull the tick straight out from the skin and remove the tick from your cat or dog safely. Some tick-removing tools, like the Tick Twister, suggest a circular twisting motion while pulling. Try not to puncture the tick's body. Doing so may cause potential pathogens to release into your pet while the tick is embedded. Once the tick is removed, clean the skin with mild soap and water, and keep an eye on the area to make sure it heals normally.
If part of the tick breaks off in the skin, you can try to remove it as you would a splinter. However, it's best to leave the separated part alone. The body will reject it in time. Call your veterinarian if you have any concerns. Also, do not use a match or caustic materials in an attempt to get the tick to back out. This action can damage your pet's skin and may cause the hijacker to regurgitate saliva (and potential pathogens) into the body. The same goes for "smothering" the tick with petroleum jelly or a similar material.
How to Prevent Tick Bites
Thankfully, many safe and effective tick preventative medications are available for both dogs and cats. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate product based on your pet's needs and lifestyle. When you're outside playing, try to avoid areas with tall grasses or large piles of brush and decaying leaves. Keep your yard well-groomed by cutting the grass, trimming the shrubs, and pruning dead flowers. Tick repellants (ideally only natural options) can also be used in problem areas within your yard.