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Pet Safety

How to Properly Check Your Dog for Ticks

Learn how to prevent ticks from feeding on and infecting your dog with serious illnesses and how to properly remove them

The summer is in full swing, and I’m sure we’ve all heard a friend say, “I pulled 10 ticks off my dog today!” 

While my record this season is only three in one day after a hike with my American Pitbull Terrier mix – that thankfully has a coat that is 90 percent white – some of my friends with longer-haired dogs have found plenty more crawling around on their pups. 

So how do you properly check for ticks on different breeds, and how do you prevent ticks from attaching and potentially infecting your dog with a nasty illness? Luckily, it’s not as difficult as it may seem. 

How do you check for and remove ticks from a dog?

First, it should be noted that you’re never going to catch every tick on your dog. Sometimes they will take a ride and hop off into a blanket, and sometimes they’ll bite your dog and die – if you have them on the proper medication. Other times they’ll hide in hard-to-find places like the Henry’s pocket (the small pouch on a dog’s ear), in their armpits, in between their toes, or on their gums. In this case, they’ll either attach or, once again, jump off after taking a ride. 

So, knowing this, you want to thoroughly comb through your dog’s coat with your fingers, against the grain. With shorthaired dogs, this is a simple process as you can typically see a tick. For long-haired dogs, follow the same process but feel for small bumps. Every bump won’t be a tick, but this is an easy way to detect them. An easier method is using a tick comb, available at many different pet stores or on Amazon. 

To remove a tick, you can use your fingers if it isn’t attached. If it is attached, it’s recommended to use a Tick Key. Place the key over the skin, and slide the key flush to the skin until the tapered end holds the tick. Once in the taped end, continue a straight pull, flush to the skin, to remove it. Do not lift the key, as this can rip the tick out in a way that leaves parts of the mouth and head in the skin which can cause infection. Finally, after removing a tick, embedded or not, wash your hands as they can be carrying bacteria that cause illnesses like Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Further, if you remove a tick with a Tick Key, follow the included instructions for sanitizing the product. 

How to prevent ticks from attaching to a dog

While checking for ticks is the final step in protecting your dog, there are many ways to prevent ticks from riding on or attaching to your pet in the first place. 

According to Lindsay Vega DVM, a veterinarian at Cheat Lake Animal Hospital in Cheat Lake, West Virginia, the best prevention is an oral flea and tick medication. Given monthly, this medication kills fleas and ticks when they bite a dog, preventing illness. 

“With an oral product, you know your dog has ingested it, and they often enjoy the chewable-treat form,” she said in an interview with Project Upland. “If used as recommended for the specific product, then they work extremely well and effectively to prevent tick-borne illnesses.”

Vega also recommended Seresto-brand collars but suggested staying away from topicals and other over-the-counter products. 

Other options include permethrin and environmentally safe sprays. Though some believe permethrin is dangerous to dogs, this is not true as dog’s skin and fur bond differently with the product. It is dangerous to humans, cats, and fish, however, but there are many other options available to mitigate this. 

In the same Project Upland article, Vega noted that while sprays work for certain areas, it’s still best to start with oral medication. 

Finding a routine

Having a routine to check for ticks is an important step in preventing tick-borne illnesses. After every outing, I make Daisy, my dog, “deck” (sit in my vehicle’s cargo bay) to do my checks before we go home. This is also a good time to check for other things dog’s attract, like burrs. 

This happens after a training session around or in tall grass, or a hike through the mountainous terrain of my home state of West Virginia. 

Admittedly, I am highly paranoid of ticks, so my natural drive to check my dog leads to a follow-up check when we get home as well. We also have her on a monthly tick and flea medication, but because she is a cuddler and often sleeps in our bed, the preventative measure is as much for my girlfriend and me as it is for Daisy. 

It may seem like a chore sometimes, but just remember, nothing will 100 percent prevent tick-borne illnesses. Putting yourself in a routine to check for ticks will save you any concern and possibly a hefty veterinary bill for treatment, and having the peace of mind that you and your beloved pet are safe is invaluable. 

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