Ticks and Pets: How to Spot, Remove and Avoid Them Altogether

Tick on a plant
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Ticks cannot jump or fly, so they climb onto objects like fences or vegetation. They wait there for a human or animal to walk by so they can drop onto an unwitting host and hitch a ride.

When temperatures rise, pets tend to spend more time outside, either relaxing in the sunshine, taking long walks or playing. While the fresh air and exercise are great for them (and you!), it’s important to be aware of some outdoor risks — specifically, bugs and parasites that can bite your pet and make him sick. But don't worry, taking a few precautions before you head outside can help keep these pests away. 

The Troublesome Tick

Ticks are attracted to motion, warm temperatures and the carbon dioxide that your pet exhales. Ticks cannot jump or fly, so they climb onto objects like fences or vegetation. They wait there for a human or animal to walk by so they can drop onto an unwitting host and hitch a ride. Ticks can carry different pathogens, depending on the area of the country in which you live. Ask your veterinarian which ticks are prevalent in your area so you can be on the lookout.

Once ticks find a host, they take a bite — though most tick bites are painless, and your pet probably won’t even feel it. The bite can transfer pathogens to a pet, which can lead to disease, or the bite site can become infected. If this happens, your veterinarian will often treat the infection with oral antibiotics. Topical antibiotics aren't enough, as the infection could have already spread through your pet’s body, making it much harder to treat.

Keeping Ticks at Bay

One of the best ways to deal with ticks is to avoid them in the first place. Don't take walks in the woods during prime season. Keep the grass, trees and bushes in your yard trimmed, and clear away any brush where ticks might like to hide.

Speak to your veterinarian about which of the available preventive products are best suited to your geographic area and the age of your pet. These products help kill ticks, but be sure you check with your veterinarian before using them. Some products should only be used on adult dogs or cats. The new generation of preventive products is highly effective at tackling ticks, but only use one product at a time. Insecticide sprays intended for use on clothing and/or humans should never be used on pets.

Most importantly, never use any product labeled for a dog on a cat. Products labeled for dogs may contain pyrethrins or permethrins, which can be extremely toxic to cats. Your veterinarian can advise you on the best preventive products for your particular pets.

Removing Ticks

After your pet spends time outdoors, check him carefully for ticks, especially in hard-to-reach places (ticks like to hide in warm areas, so be sure to check folds of skin, under the arms, in the ears, between the toes, etc.). Keep in mind that ticks are very tiny — some are as small as the head of a pin. If you find a tick on your dog or cat, first of all, don’t panic. Try to remove the tick as soon as possible. Cats can remove ticks during grooming, but not if the tick is in an inaccessible place, like behind the ear. For safe removal, avoid touching the tick with bare fingers. Use tweezers to take hold of the tick, and pull slowly and steadily. If you can't remove the tick’s mouthparts from your pet’s skin, don't worry. Once the body has been removed, the tick can no longer transmit pathogens, and the area should heal on its own. Just tossing the tick down the sink or toilet may allow it to survive and crawl out, so first put the tick in rubbing alcohol to kill it. If you have a hard time removing the tick, or are unsure how to do it properly, contact your veterinarian.

By taking a few simple precautions and checking with your veterinarian, you can help keep your pet tick-free all summer long!

Facts About Ticks

  • Lyme disease may be the most well-known disease that can result from pathogens transmitted by ticks, but it isn’t the only one.
  • Ticks affect many different mammals, birds and reptiles because they can transmit pathogens from prior hosts.
  • If a tick bites an animal with a particular disease, that pathogen can be transmitted when the tick bites another animal.
  • With your veterinarian, discuss possible tick-related diseases in your geographic location and the steps you need to take to prevent tick infestations on your pet.

A little prevention can go a long way!

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