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Tiny parasites that feed on the blood of a host animal, ticks can transmit diseases to both people and pets.

If your dog spends a lot of time outside, tick checks should be part of your daily routine. In many areas of the United States, ticks are active year-round, even after a killing frost. Here’s how to spot a tick—and what to do if one has grabbed hold of your pet.

Step 1: Scan for ticks
Start by running your fingers slowly over your dog’s entire body. If you feel a bump or swollen area, check to see if a tick has burrowed there. Don’t limit your search to your dog’s torso. Check between their toes, around their legs, the insides of their ears and all around their face, chin and neck.

Step 2: Is it a tick?
Ticks can be black, brown or tan and they have eight legs. They can also be tiny; some species are only as large as the head of a pin.

Tweezers pulling an engorged tick out of an animal
Regularly check your pet even if you’re using a preventative. If you spot a tick, carefully remove it with tweezers.

Step 3: Safe removal
Clean tweezers / tick remover
Disinfectant or antiseptic cream
Isopropyl alcohol
Stay safe! Always wear gloves while handling ticks to avoid contact with your skin.

Grasp the tick as close to your dog’s skin as possible (without pinching your pet).
Pull it out slowly in a straight, steady motion. Don’t jerk; anything left behind could lead to an infection.

Gently press the remover against your pet’s skin near the tick.
Slide the notch of the remover under the tick, pulling it free.

Step 4: Cleanup and after-care
Drop the tick into isopropyl alcohol and note the date you found the tick. If your pet begins displaying symptoms of a tick-borne illness, your veterinarian may want to identify or test it. Some symptoms include arthritis or lameness that lasts for three to four days, reluctance to move, swollen joints, fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite and neurological problems.

Wash your hands, clean your pet’s wound with antiseptic and make sure to clean your tweezers with isopropyl alcohol.

Keep an eye on the area where the tick was to see if an infection surfaces. If the skin remains irritated or infected, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Step 5: Prevent future bites
If you or your companion animals spend any time outdoors, you should routinely check for ticks. Ticks transfer between hosts, so it is important to check all family members after outdoor activities in wooded, leafy or grassy areas.

Comb your pet regularly with a flea comb, vacuum frequently and dispose of the bags immediately after use, mow areas of the lawn where your dog spends time, wash pet bedding weekly and wash your pet with a pesticide-free pet shampoo. In addition, to protect cats from fleas and ticks, as well as a host of other outdoor hazards, cats should be kept indoors at all times.

You can also ask your veterinarian about flea and tick preventatives.

How to prevent tick-borne diseases
Tick-borne illnesses can be difficult to diagnose and treat, so preventing ticks from biting your pet in the first place is crucial.

Use a preventative regularly—and not just in the warm months. Tick bites can happen any time of year, so it’s best to use a preventative year-round.
Choose a product compatible with your pet’s lifestyle. For example, a topical product might not be a good option for a dog who swims regularly.
Only use products that are appropriate for your pet. Don’t use a dog product on a cat or vice versa.
Don’t assume your flea protection covers ticks, too—check the label.
Follow frequency and application directions carefully.
Don’t assume you’re not at risk if you live in an urban area—ticks can be present nearly anytime, anywhere.
Ask your veterinarian about the Lyme disease vaccine.
Keep your cat indoors.
Regularly check your dog for ticks, especially after playing in grassy areas or hiking in the woods.
Try using a lint roller immediately after coming inside—you might catch ticks that haven’t yet bitten your pet.
If you find a tick, remove it promptly: It takes 24 to 48 hours for an attached tick to transmit an infection to its host.
What are symptoms of tick-borne diseases?
Unlike people, pets don’t develop a telltale bull’s-eye rash at the site of a tick bite. Symptoms of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses may not show up until weeks or months after a bite, and they are often vague, making them difficult and time-consuming to diagnose.

Talk with your veterinarian if you notice any of the following:

Joint pain or swollen joints
Skin rash
Weight loss
Decreased appetite or thirst
Inflammation at or near a bite mark
Neurological problems