For many pet owners, ticks are a fact of life. Most of us know that dogs and cats are susceptible to ticks, but so are rabbits, guinea pigs, and other warm-blooded animals. And ticks aren’t just disgusting, they’re dangerous too.
Ticks carry parasites carry diseases and bacteria that can harm your pets, and you. It’s important to check your pet for parasites regularly, and to remove ticks safely when you find them.
But if you’re going to remove a tick, it’s important to do it in a way that’s safe for both you and your pets.
What Are Ticks, Exactly?
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Ticks are arachnids. They have eight legs. They live off of the blood of warm-blooded animals. There are many different tick species, but two primary types: hard shelled and soft shelled. Both types feed on dogs, cats, rabbits, and other pets.
How Does a Pet Pick Up Ticks?
Many people associate ticks with the outdoors and summer. However, in some climates, ticks can be a year round problem.
Animals can pick up ticks in wooded areas, or in grassy areas including beach grass. But ticks are also found in urban areas. And if you have indoor pets, your pets can bring them inside the house, too.
The Dangers of Ticks
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Can something so small really cause such big problems? Yes. Ticks carry numerous different diseases. In addition to tick borne illness, there’s always a risk of infection. And some pets even suffer from tick paralysis.
These dangers don’t just threaten your pets; they can affect you, too.
Babesiosis is a disease caused by parasites carried by ticks. You heard that right. Parasites of parasites.
Lyme disease is a serious bacterial infection that can affect dogs, rabbits, and humans, though not cats. It’s painful, and, if left untreated, Lyme disease can cause damage to the kidneys and joints.
Tick Borne Fevers
There are numerous fevers transmitted by tick bites that can affect both pets and humans, including:
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- East Coast Fever
Tick paralysis can happen when a pet’s nervous system reacts to the toxins in a tick’s bite. Left untreated, it can lead to death. If you suspect tick paralysis, contact your veterinarian immediately.
How to Remove a Tick
Just pull it off, right?
Improperly removing a tick can leave the head attached, which can lead to infection and other problems. Here’s how to do it right.
Some Tools of the Trade
Here are some helpful things for your tick removal kit. You might not need them all each time, but it’s good to have them on hand.
- Tick Removal Tool*
- Household tweezers with blunt tips
- Isopropyl Alcohol (Rubbing alcohol)
- Cotton Balls
- Magnifying glass
- Pet safe antiseptic
You can also purchase a commercial tick removal kit and add to it as you see fit.
*There are several types of tick removal tool online and in pet shops, including the tick twister and the tick tornado. These tools hook under the tick’s head, and allow you to remove the entire tick without handling ticks yourself.
How to Find Ticks
Ticks can bite your pet pretty much anywhere. However, there are specific places that they seem to like on different types of animals.
In rabbits, you’ll most commonly find ticks near the ears. For a dog, check inside and around your dog’s ears and underneath the collar. With cats, pay particular attention to the area behind the ears and head.
You can often feel a tick when stroking your pet. It feels like a little bump in your dog’s coat, or on your dog’s skin (or the coat or skin of your other pet).
Running a comb through your dog’s fur (or the fur of your other pet) can help you to uncover a tick safely without risking a tick bite to yourself.
How to Safely Remove a Tick
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If you’re using a tick remover, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Otherwise, here’s how to remove a tick from a dog or other pet with things you may already have at home.
First, add a bit of rubbing alcohol to a jar. This is for killing the tick.
Next, put on gloves to protect yourself. If you wear gloves, you can reduce your own chance of getting bitten.
Now, have someone hold your pet still. It’s especially important to be gentle when removing a tick from a small animal like a rabbit or guinea pig.
Using a pair of household tweezers, slide the tips underneath the tick’s head. Using a steady motion, pull the tick back. Don’t jerk, and avoid squeezing the tick’s body. After the attached tick is no longer attached, check to make sure that no body parts remain.
Drop the tick into the isopropyl alcohol. Now apply antiseptic cream to the bite site to kill any remaining infectious organisms left on your pet’s skin.
If the head remains embedded in the bite area, don’t try to dig it out yourself. Instead, take your pet to the vet.
How Not to Remove a Tick
You may have heard of other methods to remove a tick from your dog or other pet, such as burning them off, or suffocating them with petroleum jelly.
Don’t do it.
The petroleum jelly theory is attractive, because you just have to wait for the tick to drop off once it suffocates. In reality, though, this method doesn’t work very well.
Ticks can hold their breath for a long time, and they will often just stay attached and continue feeding and transmitting disease and parasites.
It goes without saying that removing ticks by burning poses a danger to your pet’s skin and hair. If you’re removing parasites from a small, nervous animal like a rabbit, the danger far outweighs any possible benefit.
Covering a tick in different poisons (some even suggest nail polish remover!) can harm your pet’s skin, and may even poison them when they clean themselves. In addition, it might not work against the parasite at all.
To best protect both you and your animal companion, use a tick remover or tweezers, and be gentle. And if you’re uncertain, ask your vet for help.
Prevention is the best medicine. Here’s how to keep your animals happily parasite free.
Make a parasite check part of your regular grooming routine. Use a fine-toothed comb to examine your animals for parasites and eggs.
Your vet can advise you about the best parasite protection for your animal companion. Your vet can also tell you when and how to start treatment.
Use an animal safe insect repellent around your enclosure to repel ticks and other biters.
Do you have more questions? We have answers!
Does Anything Kill Ticks Instantly?
Dropping a tick into rubbing alcohol will kill it instantly.
Can I Vacuum Ticks Off of My Pet?
No. A vaccuum isn’t strong enough in most cases. Also, the vacuum terrifies a lot of pets, and in the case of rabbits and other small creatures, fear kills.
Can I Use Dog or Cat Tick Control Products on Small Pets?
Many flea and tick control products made for one animal can cause serious harm to other animals. Never give your cat flea and tick control products made for dogs, and never use either cat or dog products on rabbits or other small pets.
There are products for controlling fleas and ticks made especially for small pets. To find the best one for your pet, consult your veterinarian.
For such little things, ticks can cause big problems for your pets. Fortunately, there are a lot of products on the market that can help you to keep your pets, and your home, flea and tick free.