It's that time of year, again - tick season. (Groans heard all around.) While emergency calls about ticks and their removal are essentially a thing of the past, these little critters still manage to freak out some of the most stoic folks around. So, best to be prepared and know thy enemy!
For those of you who are thinking, "What's a tick?" this article is especially for you.
Ticks are small, flat, round, leathery blood-sucking parasites. Like their cousins - spiders - they are eight-legged as adults. Ticks live in areas with tall grass, shrubs and low brush, and either fall from branches of bushes onto their intended victims or crawl onto them while they are bedded down in their resting spots.
There are all sorts of ticks, big and small. Just about any animal that has blood can be a host for ticks. Dogs, cats, horses, cattle, rodents, rabbits, birds, even reptiles can have ticks. Proper tick removal is the same, no matter how big the tick or how small the animal.
Removing a tick from your dog can be accomplished in roughly two seconds, provided you have the right tools and your dog will hold still that long. If you have a Jack Russell, forget the second part -you'll need an assistant, a bag of treats and a trained monkey. The trained monkey is probably the only thing that will cause a Jack Russell to hold still, but only for about one second (while he calculates the quickest way to close the distance between him and the trained monkey) so use that time wisely.
OK, so here's the deal: When you find a tick on your dog, get a pair of tweezers, hold the dog steady, and - ready for this? - Grab the tick as close to the dog's skin as you can and pull it off.
"Did she say just pull it off?"
"Yeah, I think so."
That's what I said.
"What about smothering it with oil to suffocate the tick, and make it back out of the skin?"
Again, nope. Oil or Vaseline just makes it greasy, and that makes the tick tougher to grip and pull off. Besides, it's really, really hard to suffocate a tick, so don't bother. Once you've pulled the tick off, drop it in some rubbing alcohol, and then flush it down the commode.
"How about holding a kerosene-soaked cotton ball next to it, causing it to back out and fall off?"
No. Just pull it off.
"Ammonia? Clorox? Nail polish? Peanut butter?
No, no, no and peanut butter? No. Just pull it off.
"But what if I leave the head in the skin?"
The mouthparts and head of the tick are buried under the surface of the skin when the tick is attached. Yes, it is possible for those to break off and be left in the dog. But you know what? Don't worry about it.
"Did she say don't worry about it?"
"I think so - that's not what I was told."
Yeah, I know.
But, the current thinking on this subject by scientists who study this stuff is: So what?
The body's normal reaction to foreign material is to send inflammatory cells to the site and wall it off.
Eventually, like a splinter, any mouthparts or piece of the tick that is left behind will work its way out of the skin. Isn't the body wonderful?
Also, the more you dig around at the site, the more likely you'll cause an even greater inflammatory reaction, pain, and possibly induce infection. If you must do something after you pull off a tick, wash the site and put some Neosporin on it.
Some sites where ticks have been removed do become swollen and infected.
Obviously, these should be checked by a veterinarian. But the vast majority of tick bites go unnoticed following proper tick removal.
"My cousin's uncle's best friend just pulled ticks off with his fingers. Then he'd crush the ticks 'til they popped."
Crushing ticks 'til they pop is disgusting.
And although it is a pretty effective means of bringing about their demise, it is extremely ill advised.
Ticks carry all sorts of nasties that can make both animals and people very sick. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (yes, here in Pennsylvania), Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis and Lyme Disease are a few serious illnesses that come to mind.
Blood from a damaged tick can be infective, so it's a bad idea to risk touching it, or Lord help me, having it spray your face, eyes, or mouth as you pop the tick. And for goodness sake, don't pull ticks off with your teeth. Unless you're a trained monkey, then go right ahead.
By far the best way to deal with ticks is not to deal with ticks. Avoid going into known tick infested areas, especially in early spring and late fall. Wear long pants, long sleeves, and check yourself and your pets after a romp in the woods, particularly at this time of year.
There are some products sold by veterinarians that are effective at repelling ticks on dogs and cats, which make life a little easier.
And one final bit of advice. I once had a case involving exasperated owners, a pair of needle-nosed pliers and a freaked out (and very angry) Rottweiler with a small, flat, leathery, dark brown skin tumor on the side of her face.
I'll admit, the tumor did closely resemble a tick, but I assure you, pliers are not my instrument of choice to remove a tumor. Nor was it the dog's. Some needless suffering took place before the dog was presented to me that afternoon, I can attest.
Please make sure the thing you are about to tweeze off your animal is, in fact, a tick.
And if you feel it is big enough to require tools from the garage for removal, you should probably seek the advice of your veterinarian before attempting surgery yourself.
Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital. Her column prints every other Sunday in the Lifestyle section. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.