With tick season upon us, we spoke to Bruce Kornreich, Associate Director for Education and Outreach at the Cornell Feline Health Center, to learn the fine points of tick monitoring and removal. Ticks pose a serious threat to both dogs and their human companions. Canines are at risk of contracting tickborne diseases like Lyme disease, Hemobartonellosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, and others. Like the old scout motto says … be prepared!
How do you remove a tick?
Kornreich: To remove a tick, use a fine-tipped tweezer, hold it near the animal’s skin, grasp the tick and pull upwards without twisting. You should never directly handle or crush a tick with your hands. To dispose of ticks after removal, place them in a sealed bag, flush them down the toilet, wrap them tightly in tape, or immerse them in alcohol. Washing your hands well after removing a tick is a good idea.
What about those remedies we learned at camp?
Don’t believe the old tales about using burned matches, nail polish, or Vaseline to kill ticks embedded in the skin. Removal is a much better idea, and do it as soon as possible because there’s evidence that suggests the longer you wait the more likely it is your pet will contract a tickborne illness.
How should I monitor my dog for ticks?
Regular tick checks are really important for pets and humans. To find ticks on your cat or dog, you will have to feel them all over with your fingers. It’s a lot harder to find ticks on long haired animals than short haired animals. Often people won’t find them until they’ve taken a blood meal, which makes them larger and more conspicuous.
If the tick is engorged with blood, then it’s been feeding for a while and it’s more likely that your pet could contract a tickborne illness. You can preserve the tick by taping it— with clear tape—to a piece of paper and keeping it in the freezer or preserve it in a small container of rubbing alcohol. If your pet becomes sick in the following weeks or months, your vet may be able to identify the tick, and that may provide information about the possible diseases involved.
In dogs, Lyme disease is one of the most common tickborne illnesses. Lameness is often the first sign of Lyme infection, and if your dog becomes lame during tick season you should be doubly suspicious of the possibility of Lyme. Other signs of infection include lethargy and fever.