Photo of a smiling dog on a walking trail
Black and White headshot of IndeVets Employee Courtney
Words by:
Courtney Zinna, DVM — Associate IndeVet

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting there petting your dog and suddenly you feel a small bump under their fur. Or you spot a tiny black/brown dot on your dog’s belly. That small bump or visible dot turns out to be one of every pet owner’s biggest fears: a tick.  

As a small animal veterinarian in New Jersey (one of the worst states for ticks), I commonly find ticks on my canine patients when they are in for their routine wellness exams. The question is what do you do if you find a tick on your pet when you are not at the vet?  

In this article, we will discuss how to safely remove a tick from your dog and how to prevent exposure to tick-borne diseases in your trusted companion.

How to safely remove a tick 

It is very important to speak with your veterinarian if you find a tick attached to your pet, especially if you feel like you cannot safely remove the tick at home. One of my favorite tools to use to remove ticks from pets (even in the veterinary clinic) is the tick spoon. This simple tool is easy to use and can be ordered online. That way you can have it at home in case you ever find a tick on your pet.  

The tick spoon comes in many different forms, but the concept when using it to remove a tick is the same. This tool allows you to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, giving you the ability to remove both the body of the tick and most importantly, the head. If you feel like you were not able to remove the entire tick from your pet, contact your veterinarian for the next recommended steps. This way your veterinarian can make sure your pet is on the proper medications to prevent infection.

How can ticks affect your pet? 

Once the tick is safely removed from your canine companion, the next worry is “will my dog become sick?” Your veterinarian can educate you on how to closely monitor your pet for any clinical signs that can be indicative of tick-borne disease. Some of the more common clinical signs that can be noted in dogs associated with a tick-borne disease include: 

  • Lethargy 
  • Decreased appetite 
  • Fever 
  • Vomiting 
  • Lameness (trouble walking) 

The good news is that a tick usually needs to be attached to its host, in this case, your dog, for at least a few hours (if not longer), to transmit the potential pathogens that can cause clinical disease in our beloved pets. Therefore, proper flea and tick prevention in your dog is extremely important in helping to prevent disease transmission, as well as performing routine tick checks after taking your dog for a walk in the park.   

If you are worried about any tick-borne disease in your dog, there are many different blood tests that your local veterinarian can perform to see if your pet could have been exposed to tick-borne disease. One of the most common tests will look for antibodies in your dog’s blood for three of the most common tick-borne diseases seen in the United States, which are: 

  • Anaplasmosis 
  • Lyme Disease 
  • Ehrlichiosis 

The most important thing to remember is that your dog can take months to develop any clinical disease after a tick bite and your pet specifically may not ever even become truly infected. There are also other blood tests – such as tick titers – that can be performed which can test a dog for many of the other tick-borne diseases that can be seen in different regions across the country, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  

Your veterinarian will determine if your pet was just exposed to a tick-borne disease or is truly infected, by running different diagnostics including a urinalysis and a CBC (complete blood count) to assess your pet for anemia (low red blood cells), thrombocytopenia (low platelets), or proteinuria (protein in your pet’s urine) – all which can occur with the above-mentioned tick diseases.  

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How to prevent your dog from getting exposed to ticks 

There are many different options for flea and tick prevention in our canine pets, including both oral and topical medications. Most of these options are applied or given once a month, but there are even longer-lasting options available for your pet that can potentially provide months of protection against tick-borne disease. There is a common misconception that flea and tick prevention provide a “shield” around your pet to repel fleas and ticks. While this is true for some products (Seresto Collars, Advantix II for dogs), most products (especially oral products), require a flea or tick to bite your pet before it works to kill them. The concept is the preventative will kill those pesky parasites PRIOR to them transmitting these common diseases. I recommend speaking with your veterinarian to determine which option is best for your pet based on his or her lifestyle and potential exposure to tick-borne disease. 

I also recommend discussing with your veterinarian the importance of keeping your pet on flea and tick prevention year-round, as certain ticks can survive even in the coldest of temperatures. There is also a vaccination to help protect dogs against Lyme disease. This is not a required vaccination (like Rabies) but can be very helpful, especially in certain areas of the country to help prevent and decrease Lyme disease transmission. I recommend knowing what ticks are common in your area and discussing with your veterinarian if this vaccine is recommended for your pet. Check out the Companion Animal Parasite Council Maps here to see what parasites are common in your state! 

In summary

Tick-borne diseases are something very common in our canine companions. It is important to educate yourself on the best way to protect your pet from exposure to these potentially deadly diseases. If your dog is currently not on any prevention for flea and tick disease, please schedule an appointment with your local veterinarian as soon as possible to find out which options are right for your pet!

 Dr. Courtney Zinna is an Associate IndeVet practicing in South Carolina.

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