Tick Talk

Let’s talk about ticks. I get questions about ticks all the time. They are becoming more and more frequent and Lyme disease positive ticks have been found practically in our back yard. So what do you do if your dog or cat has a tick? Here is a handy step by step guide.

Step 1- Don’t panic…seriously don’t. If you have already started panicking, stop.  Yes, they are gross and some of them cause disease but the next few minutes are not a life and death situation.

Step 2- Remove the tick. If the tick is not attached this is easy. Just pick it up with tweezers and stick it in a plastic container with a lid or a zip top bag so it can’t get out and roam your house. Usually ticks are attached by the time you find them. They get bigger and are easier to spot. You may even think you found a skin tag on an older pet and then be really grossed out because you touched it. If that happens, see step one.  There are a few strategies for removing ticks. You can buy a Tick Twister to help you remove ticks. Just follow the directions on the package. Otherwise grab the head with tweezers and pull straight back pull slowly as you may yank the head right off. For more directions (but less jokes) visit:  york.ca/lymedisease

Step 3- Feel free to name your new pet tick at this time. This is not an absolute requirement but it is oddly satisfying to name a tick after the kid who bullied you in school or the former co-worker who stole your lunch from the fridge etc. Be creative.

Step 4- Check yourself before you wreck yourself….or more accurately before Lyme disease does. If your dog has been somewhere that there are ticks you have been there too. This is not necessarily true of outdoor cats who go on adventures solo but we usually stick pretty close to our canine companions, even when they are off leash. Check yourself and any kids in the family over carefully. That includes hard-to -see area like scalp and armpits and groin. Ticks will crawl to a nice quiet place so just because you weren’t rolling in the grass naked (no judgement if you were) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check there.  Take precautions for yourself if you are going to be in tick infested areas. Pull your socks up over your pants and don’t be afraid of bug spray on adults and children who are old enough. Tick “blooms” (sounds prettier than it is) tend to happen in spring and fall so be especially careful during those times. Humans are more sensitive to Lyme disease than dogs and seem to be harder to diagnose so follow up with your human doc if you have any concerns about you or your 2 legged hairless kids.

Step 5- Follow-up.  Call the office and let us know. We will put a note in your file. This comes in handy later if your pet shows signs that could be related to tick borne disease. For dogs, we recommend doing follow up testing weeks later. We start by sending off a 4dx test – the same that we use to screen for heart worm also screens for exposure to tick borne disease. From there we make a plan based on the results and whether your pet has any clinical signs. If you aren’t the sort of person who is good at waiting for things….I include myself in this group…we can send the tick directly to the lab for analysis. For the cat people: tick borne disease is still very rare in felines. Go ahead and move on to step 6.  See…no need to panic.

Step 6- Prevention. If you have already done this move on to 7 if not then it is time to get started. Some tick meds kill ticks before they bite and some kill afterwards. Both are helpful both will decrease risk but do not 100% prevent tick borne diseases. You will still have to remove dead ticks if you are using a product that kills ticks after they bite. A quick note just for the cat people: Permethrin – the active ingredient in many dog flea and tick meds is VERY toxic to cats. NEVER put dog tick meds on a cat. If you do by accident get to your vet or the Emergency Clinic RIGHT NOW. Seriously LEAVE RIGHT NOW.

Step 7- So what does tick born disease look like anyway? Signs of Lyme disease (and a few other tick borne diseases) can look pretty general. Lethargy, fever, limping that may shift from leg to leg, weight loss, not wanting to eat…these can all be signs of Tick borne disease and a whole lot of other things too. If you see any of these signs it’s time to come in for a visit.


Want more information? Try www.cdc.gov/lyme

About the Author

Dr Elizabeth LaytonView all posts by Dr Elizabeth Layton
Dr Layton graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in 2005 and began work in mixed animal practice. Dr. Layton’s special interest is dentistry but she enjoys a variety of internal medicine and surgical cases.


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