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How to Remove a Tick from Your Cat or Dog

Pet pest prevention

Ticks — while tiny in size — can actually pose a serious threat to your pet. These pests can be black, brown, grayish-white, reddish-brown or yellow in color and can be either hard or soft. Ticks have three stages of life, but can bite your pet no matter which stage it is in. A tick will look slightly different depending on the type you or your pet encounter, but most appear round with four to eight legs, and they can vary in size between 1mm to 1cm in length.

Although ticks are often harmless, some can cause allergic reactions or may even pass diseases — like Lyme disease — on when they bite. As warmer weather arrives and your pet starts spending more time outside, it’s probably time for a refresher on ticks so you can be prepared for possible encounters.

The do's and don'ts of tick removal

How to remove a tick correctly

Keep your pet safe by checking them daily for any pests or tick bites. If you find a tick on your pet’s body, you’ll want to make sure you remove it properly so that the entire body of the tick comes off unattached. Follow these steps to safely and completely remove a tick from your pet:

  1. Look for the tick’s body (it’ll look like a gray or brown balloon) protruding from your pet.
  2. Use pointed tweezers, hemostats or an actual tick removal tool, and firmly grasp the tick at the head, which will be nearest to your pet’s skin.
  3. Use steady pressure and pull the tick straight out, avoiding any twisting motions. It may take a few minutes, but with continued steady pressure, the tick should disengage from your pet’s skin.
  4. Clean the area with mild soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
  5. Apply a hydrocortisone spray or antibiotic ointment to help relieve irritation.
  6. Place the tick in a jar with rubbing alcohol to kill it.

How not to remove a tick

How not to remove a tick from your pet’s body is almost as important as how you should do it. When removing a tick, keep the following things in mind:

  • Do not burn the tick with a match. You may have heard this method through the grapevine, but placing something as hot as a match near your pet’s skin and fur is never a good idea in any situation.
  • Do not try to drown the tick. You also may have heard of people trying to drown a tick with Vaseline, soap, kerosene or even nail polish. Since ticks dive into skin head first, attempting to smother them will not work, and whatever you use may irritate your pet’s skin even further.
  • Do not twist the tick. Some people believe that twisting the tick counterclockwise helps to unscrew it from the body. This action could actually cause the head to remain in your pet’s skin.

How to prevent a tick infestation

If your pet has come home with a tick, treating the issue should be your first concern. However, once you’ve properly removed the tick, it might be time to consider taking some preventative measures to avoid future bites. Start with the basics:

  1. Understand where pets get ticks: Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way to protect your pet from ticks, since these critters can make themselves happy in any number of places: other animals, your own clothing, grass and fields, other foliage and places where other animals may frequent such as boarding kennels. Since it is hard to treat all of these places, it’s best to be aware of them so that you can thoroughly check your pet after encountering a location that may have housed ticks.
  2. Learn about the tick lifecycle: Most ticks go through four life stages, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These include the egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. After the egg phase, ticks must eat blood at every additional stage in order to live. While most die off trying to find hosts to feed, a tick that survives could take up to three years to complete the full cycle.
  3. Set up preventative measures: Again, while there’s no way to completely assure that your pet will never bring home a tick, there are a few preventative measures you can take to help lower the odds. Cats, for one, should always stay indoors, which drastically reduces their odds of picking up a tick, as well as other hazardous pests. You can avoid going into areas with your pet where you know ticks have been found, and always check yourself and your pet when you return from being outside and before you enter the house. Repellents can keep you from bringing home ticks that might in turn harm your pet, and you can create a tick-free environment in your own outdoor areas by applying outdoor flea treatments to control the area, frequently mow lawns, clearing tall grasses and brush, and remove any leaf litter.

You can also speak with your veterinarian about the best tick prevention products and the best areas to avoid.

Additional resources on pest prevention: