What to Do If a Tick Bites You or Your Pet
It's important to know how to remove it safely and treat the bite.
When you find that your cat or dog is being pestered by ticks, you may not know exactly where to start in relieving their itchiness and pain. Likewise, as the prevalence of Lyme diseases has increased, it's important for people to know when ticks are present on themselves. In order to manage ticks, it's first important to understand what they are: Like fleas, ticks are arthropods that are classified as arachnids like spiders. Ticks feed on the blood of their host and are most active in late spring and summer. Generally prominent in warmer climates, disease transmission can vary based on where you live.
"A tick is larger than a flea. Ticks also spend most of their life cycle outside living in the environment, whereas fleas are both outdoors and, also, can live and infest a home and a pet," explains Patricia Patterson, VMD, a staff veterinarian with the Best Friends Animal Society. "Most of the time ticks are found stationary, embedded in a pet and in some state of engorgement. Fleas are most often found crawling on or jumping from a pet."
While ticks tend to live in tall grass, weeds, trees, and shrubs, they are often found not in your pet's fur but close to—and embedded in—the skin and, occasionally, in the ear according to Patterson. "Because they are tiny and only transiently on a pet, the initial tick bite may be missed, and disease can develop without any forewarning," she adds. Tick bites can produce allergic reactions in both humans and pets, but greater danger exists in a tick's ability to transmit Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Cat owners should also be wary of Cytauxzoonosis, which is a blood parasite common in the South and carried by bobcats. Ticks that feed on bobcats can transmit the disease to domestic cats, which tends to be fatal.
How to Remove a Tick on Your Pet
Under general circumstances, removing a tick from your pet's skin is a simple process. You can purchase a tick removal kit, but fine-tipped tweezers work just fine. "Ticks can fairly easily be pulled off a pet regardless of how long they have been on the pet. They will fall off on their own after a few days. Typically, the tick can be grasped using tweezers as close to the pet's skin as possible and pulled out, trying not to leave any of the tick behind. Applying some rubbing alcohol to the tick first may help. Do not use any type of flame," Patterson advises.
Another way to remove ticks from your pet's skin is to talk to your veterinarian who can prescribe a medication that will kill ticks and work as a repellent. "Typically, after applying an effective anti-tick medication, most ticks will die or leave the pet in 24 to 48 hours," Patterson says. "Most are topical and are applied monthly or every few months. Cats are extremely sensitive to tick medication. Never use medication for dogs on cats and use feline-friendly medications exactly as directed by your veterinarian."
While your vet can provide anti-tick medication that's best for your cat or dog, you can also take preventative actions. Patterson recommends checking your pet after being outside in tick-prone areas and physically remove them if seen. "Consider shaving or at least regular grooming, especially in the warmer months, when ticks are more active, for pets with longer hair," Patterson.
How to Remove a Tick on You
If you find a tick on you, the Center of Disease Control offers comprehensive steps on how to deal with it. Just as with pets, you can remove ticks with tweezers and you never want to crush them due to the chance of transmitting infection. It's important to remove ticks as soon as possible and to avoid misguided remedies such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to remove a tick, in accordance with the CDC. If the mouth parts of the tick break off and you can't remove them with tweezers, it's suggested to leave it alone and allow the skin to heal. Clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Properly dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag or container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.