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How to remove a tick from your dog's paw

Basenji dog showing its paw advice

Your dog may pick up a tick when on a walk in the park.

© Shutterstock

Ticks are horrible little insects that will grab on to your dog, suck their blood and may infect them, so you'll want to know how to spot them and how to remove them.

By Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS

Updated on the 19/11/2020, 18:41

Ticks are blood-sucking parasites that attach to your dog and cause all sorts of trouble. It’s not uncommon for them to crawl onto your dog’s paws when walking in the countryside. When they attach on to your dog and feed, they can transmit smaller parasites and bacteria into your dog’s blood, which can cause serious infections if left untreated.

These eight-legged parasites like to hide where you can’t find them. Your dog’s paws are ideal for this, since they can sneak in between their toes or in the creases on the bottom of their feet. But a tick can be found anywhere on the body. It will attach itself to your dog’s skin and then feed on their blood, before dropping off when it’s had enough after a few days.

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What are the dangers of ticks?

Unfortunately ticks can transmit some pretty horrible illnesses. You should check with local authorities or with a local vet to find out if particular tick-borne illnesses are known in your region. Lyme disease is one such danger. It is a bacterial infection that can seriously harm your dog. They may become lethargic, lame, febrile or lose their appetite. If your pet gets Lyme disease, a vet will need to prescribe antibiotics to help them recover.

Babesiosis is another threat. It’s quite rare in the UK, but has been found towards the South and in dogs who have recently travelled abroad. It can be fatal to dogs. If your dog has pale or yellow gums, a loss of appetite or fever, a few days after having a tick, they could have babesiosis. So yes, ticks can have serious consequences when they attach themselves to your dog. Be vigilant and take your time when removing them, and hopefully your pet will be fine.

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How do you spot ticks on your dog’s paws?

Ticks are usually picked up from natural areas where there is plenty of wildlife. But they also might climb onto your dog when you take them for a walk in the park, or even in their own garden. They are especially common in woodland and grassy areas. When you come back from such an area, you should check your dog for ticks. Or, if you notice your dog chewing or biting at their feet, take a closer look. Start at the bottom of their feet, and work methodically up each leg. Then start again from the nose and work backwards along the body.

Ticks are round and brown- or grey-coloured. You can use a hairdryer to push your dog’s hair aside as you search. When you find a tick, you should remove it, but don’t simply pull it out, as if the head breaks off and remains inside, it can cause a secondary infection.

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How do you remove dog ticks?

When the tick decides to feed, it will attach itself to your dog’s skin. The easiest method to remove it is with a tick twister. This is a little fork-like tool that you insert under the tick’s body, against your dog’s skin, and simply twist and pull. It prevents the tick’s head from breaking off when you remove it. If you walk your dog in areas that have a lot of ticks, having a tick twister close by is very useful.

But if you don’t have a tick twister, you can also use tweezers. Be careful not to squeeze the body of the tick when you use tweezers as it might squirt infected blood and tick saliva back into your dog’s blood. Instead, grab the tick under the body, as close to your dog’s skin as possible, and pull straight out.

What to do after removing the tick

You can place the tick in a jar of alcohol if you wish to preserve it for disease testing, which might be necessary if your dog becomes ill in the following days.

After removing the tick, clean your dog’s tick bite with iodine, chlorhexidine or salty water, as tick bites are not sterile and can result in nasty local infections.

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What’s the wrong way to deal with ticks on a dog’s paws?

It is important to go about things the right way. If you make a mistake when removing a tick from your dog, it can raise the likelihood of transmitting disease into your dog’s blood. Don’t use your hands to do it, and don’t try to burn or poison the tick while it’s still attached to your dog. Don’t crush the tick, since this can also increase the spread of infection.

You might have also heard of a home remedy to remove a tick by placing petroleum jelly on it. This supposedly suffocates the tick, causing them to de-latch. But not only is this not particularly effective, but it also results in the tick being on your dog for a longer period of time, increasing the chances of diseases being transmitted.

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Do make sure to dispose of the removed tick carefully, preferably by flushing it down the toilet. If you put it in the rubbish bin, it may crawl back out and make its way into your house, only to attach again, if you haven’t killed it.

When should I talk to a vet?

Luckily, ticks are not as prevalent in the UK as other parts of the world, so this means tick-borne diseases are also less common. As a result, the main reason why you will probably need to take your dog to the vet is to treat a local bacterial infection around the bite. This can look red and swollen, and maybe even ooze pus. Local bite infections require antibiotics to clear up.

But if your dog seems unwell in any way after a tick bite, this is another reason why you should take them to a vet. Luckily, most tick bites resolve uneventfully, as long as you clean the area after you remove the tick.

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