We are somewhat lucky in that none of the ticks we tend to see locally are big biters. Oh, they attach well and will stay attached to a host for a long time, but they don't shove their mouthparts in to the point that their heads are buried. Some of the ticks commonly seen in the southern USA attach deep and are pretty hard to get out.
Here is a picture of a small tick right after we removed it from a dog. It is a little fat because it had fed for a while, probably a day or two. It's a good picture of the basic tick body parts - there are 8 legs, a small plate of dark grey armor where the thorax is, and the mouthparts in the front. The grey body is where the stomach is and where the blood collects, engorging the tick's body.
On the front of this tick you can easily see the mouthparts. I put an arrow there just to be obvious. The legs are still at the front, and the body has expanded enormously behind like a big balloon. This guy had probably been attached for several days, plenty of time to start transmitting Lyme disease if he carried it.
And here's a picture of a tick at the trough. This is the same tick as above, but photographed just before we removed him. He has his face buried in the dog's skin with the mouthparts sunk in, sucking up blood. Notice that there is some guck collecting around where he is feeding. This is some dead tissue and some inflammatory exudate caused by his feeding.
So ... we need to get him outta there! Here's how.
Note: It involves no power tools or flames. No Vaseline, gasoline, or other combustible materials. No animals or people should be harmed in the performance of this segment.
1. Make sure the thing you are trying to remove really is a tick.
Get the dog to hold still and part the hair. Move the thing to one side with your finger and see if you can see legs where it attaches. Make sure it's the right color. Ticks tend to look like the one of the two different ticks on this page - usually a grey color or tan/brown.
If you have any doubts as to what it is, see a vet. If you can't get it off, see a vet. If it starts to bleed, see a vet. If your dog bites you, see a doctor, and send someone else with the dog to a vet. I have had clients try to remove warts, skin tags, cysts, and small skin tumors thinking they were ticks. Needless to say, their dogs were not happy.
2. Congratulations, it's a tick! You will need:
a) a pair of pointy tweezers, b) a cool tick removal hook (right), or c) really long fingernails and a non-squeamish personality
Neosporin or other over the counter general purpose antibiotic cream
3. Part the hair and get a good look at the tick. Figure out where it is attached to the animal.
Important note before we go any further: Do not hang onto the tick by the body; you will make it regurgitate into your dog. You could also burst the tick, which is just gross and not particularly helpful to the situation, though somewhat dramatic and cool if there are teenagers around. Don't squeeze the tick at all if you can help it.
4. Slide the claw of the tick remover under the tick. The concept is just like using the claw of a hammer to remove a nail from a piece of wood. Get the remover claw snugged right up under the tick, so the tick is up in the slot as far as possible. If you are using tweezers, squeeze them almost closed and put the tips under the tick between the head and the skin (see photo to right). If you want to use your fingernails, be my guest. Same concept.
5. Using steady, firm pressure pull the tick straight up and away from the animal. You may want to hold the skin down on either side, as it will tend to tent up and rise with the tick. These little guys are really stuck in there, so you can't be too wimpy. You don't want to break the tick by pulling too hard, but you don't want to have to take 52 tries to get it out, either; your dog will not love you anymore. There may be a tearing sensation as it lets go; this is fine and won't hurt the dog.
6. If you can stand it, check out the tick. Do not fling the tick across the room in disgust. It may be alive and could theoretically reattach to the dog, the cat, or your visiting mother-in-law. If it is alive and waving its legs, you removed the whole thing and didn't leave mouthparts or head behind. Squash it. If it is dead and not waving, your dog is still going to be OK. The remaining mouthparts will not:
- burrow into the brain
- cause seizures
- cause distemper
- cause rabies
- increase the risk of Borrelia transmission
They will fester a little and might form a localized infection. Watch for this; it might be worth a visit to the vet.
7. You may disinfect the site with a little soap and warm water. Rinse well. If you want to apply alcohol to the site: don't! It will really hurt! Peroxide won't sting as much but isn't particularly effective. Soap and water will do the trick.
8. Find the spot on the dog where the tick was attached and apply a little Neosporin. Ticks set up a pretty big inflammatory response. It is normal to see a ring of pink or red where it was attached, and a scab. The dog will usually lose hair around the area as well. This is normal as long as there is no discomfort and you are not seeing a lot of pus in the area.
We sometimes refer to this as a "tick granuloma". This localized swelling and thickening can take several weeks to resolve. The eye over to the left belongs to Griffin. He had a tick removed near the corner of his eye two weeks before this photo was taken. As you can see, these lesions take some time to heal and disappear. As long as there is not pus and things seem to be getting gradually better rather than worse, things are fine.