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How To Spot and Remove a Tick

July 04, 2022

By Daniel Baldwin, BCE, CCFS, CP-FS

Whether you find yourself hiking in the woods, mowing the lawn, letting your dog play outside, or just spending time outdoors in the warm weather, it’s important to know how to spot a tick. It’s important to remove a tick as quickly as you can because certain diseases are passed from infected ticks to humans and animals, causing illnesses such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
To protect yourself, your family, and your pets from tick-borne diseases, learn more about what ticks look like, how to remove them from the skin, and ways to prevent tick bites in the future.

How to spot a tick

Finding and identifying a tick isn’t as easy as it sounds. These parasites wander around their hosts’ skin looking for a warm, moist spot to latch onto and take in blood. The areas that ticks choose are often hidden between skin folds or beneath clothing.

What do ticks look like?

The most common of these parasites are the black-legged deer tick, the American dog wood tick, and the Lone Star tick. Each is a spider-like arachnid that has eight legs. Their oval-shaped body is usually a reddish-brown, black, brown, or gray in color, depending on what type of tick you’re looking at. The Lone Star tick below is more reddish in color, while the deer tick is black with a brown or red backside.
Deer tick embedded and feeding in human skin
A Lone Star tick, more reddish in color, on the tip of a finger

What do ticks look like on dogs?

A tick that is latched onto a dog and has been feeding might look like a raised mole found on your skin (about the size of a coffee bean). A tick that hasn’t been on your dog for very long may look as small as a poppy seed.
Look for small, black bugs on your pet’s skin that are oval in shape. Upon closer inspection, you should be able to see the eight legs, which is a clear indicator it’s a tick.

How big are ticks?

Ticks are very small, making them difficult to spot. Ticks can live for up to three years, but, to grow from one stage to another, a tick must feed on a host and take in blood. So, depending on the stage a tick is in, it can range in size from what would look like a grain of sand to a poppy seed to a sesame seed.
An adult deer tick measures between 2-4mm, while an adult dog tick is a little larger at 5-6mm. After they feed, they become engorged, which means they are easier to spot because they are bigger in size, but it may make it harder to identify the type of tick you’re dealing with.

What places should I check for a tick?

The best way to spot a tick is to perform a thorough body check, especially after time spent outdoors. Ticks from woodland and long grass areas can easily attach to humans and pets as they brush by.
Inspect warm, moist areas of the body where ticks are most likely to bite. For humans, check the armpits, the scalp, the stomach, around the groin, the scalp, behind the knees, inner elbows, and around the ears.
For pets, it’s best to check where there is less hair or fur. Check under your dog’s legs, around the ears, the tail, and the stomach. Don’t forget to check under collars, too. Ticks can be difficult to spot, particularly on long-haired dogs or dogs with dark coats.
After a number of days, if you didn’t spot the tick on yourself or your pet, the critter will fall off on its own. By then, though, an infected tick may have already transmitted an illness like Lyme disease.

How to remove a tick from a person

Now that you know how to spot a tick, it’s also important to know how to remove one. If done incorrectly, you may run the risk of leaving the tick’s mouthparts behind in the skin.
To remove a tick correctly, use tweezers that have a fine tip and have been sanitized in rubbing alcohol. Grab onto the tick with the tweezers, staying as close to your skin surface as possible. Then pull the tick up, using steady pressure, without twisting or jerking.
Is the insect missing a head? If so, this means its mouthparts are still in the skin. Completely remove what’s left of the tick, going a little deeper into the skin using the tweezers.
Be sure to clean the bitten area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Wash your hands and the tweezer, too.

How to get rid of ticks on dogs

Wear gloves to protect yourself as you safely get a tick off your dog. Have another person around, if possible, to hold your pet still and keep them calm.
Using fine-pointed tweezers, get as close to your dog’s skin as you can without harming them and grasp the tick. Don’t squeeze or twist the tick, instead quickly pull it straight up and off your pet’s body. If the insect is missing a head, don’t try to remove it as you would with a tick on a human. Eventually, the tick’s head will fall out on its own. Clean the bite on your dog’s skin.
Drop the parasite into a container of rubbing alcohol to kill it and hold onto it until you’re sure your dog isn’t showing any symptoms of illness. If so, you can bring the dead tick to your vet for testing.

How to prevent a tick bite

To keep ticks away from you or your pet, avoid walking through brush and tall grass. If that’s not possible, perform thorough skin checks after a hike or a ball toss out in the yard.
You can also help reduce the possibility of tick bites by contacting a reliable pest control service who will treat your property for ticks on a monthly basis. The treatments typically target areas where ticks hide or where they are most likely to attach to people and pets.

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