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How to Check for Ticks [Humans + Dogs!]

The spring, summer, and fall months are great times to be in the Great Outdoors! However, even the best things in life can come with risks. Namely, ticks.

Unfortunately, ticks are most common in the spring and summer months. These blood-sucking parasites are not only disgusting and uncomfortable – they can actually transmit very serious diseases.

Don’t let these pests stop you from enjoying the best parts of nature with man’s best friend! This article dives into the simple techniques needed to successfully check for ticks after your outdoor adventures.

Plus, we’ll take a look at how to check your dog for ticks, what you should do if you find a tick and the science behind tick bites and disease transmission. 

The Best Defense – Quick Removal

Fortunately, if a tick does find you or your dog, you have some time before there is a possibility that you will catch Lyme disease!

According to the Centers for Disease Control, if you remove a tick within 24 hours you have a very low risk of getting any diseases from a tick.

Lyme disease – the most common disease spread by ticks – is a bacteria that can live inside of the tick’s mouthparts. When a tick bites, these bacteria slowly travel out of the mouth and into your body.

However, it can take between 24 and 36 hours for these bacteria to actually make their way into your body.

So even if you find a tick that has latched on, that does not mean you are at risk of catching a tick-borne disease! If you know that the tick has been there for less than 24 hours, you can simply remove the tick and you will be fine.

First: What Ticks Look Like

Ticks are very small – much smaller than some people assume. Adult ticks are about the size of a sesame seed, whereas younger ticks are even smaller.

Nymphs (adolescent ticks) are the size most commonly found on hikers and pets, and these ticks are only about the size of a poppy seed.

Ticks are normally a dark-brown-to-black color, which can make them hard to see against your skin. You may mistake them for a freckle or mole if you don’t look carefully! 

Guide: Checking Yourself for Ticks

1. Start by Checking Your Clothes

Ticks typically start on your clothes or shoes, then make their way to your skin. If you walked through a tick-infested area, the ticks will take several hours to make their way through your clothes and to your skin. 

A common practice is checking your pants and socks anytime you walk through grass or shrubbery that is taller than your ankles. Ticks like to hang off of vegetation and grab you as you walk by. 

As soon as you get back to your vehicle, remove any outer layers, and give them a quick look-over. When you get home, you can throw all your clothes in a hot-water wash cycle and dry them with hot air to kill any ticks you didn’t find.

2. Take a Hot Shower

Not only does a hot shower feel great after a long hike, but it can be a great time to inspect your entire body for ticks. Soap and hot water can help wash away any ticks that have not securely latched on.

However, after ticks bite you they create a cement-like substance that holds them onto your skin. So, you still need to inspect your entire body.

Ticks typically prefer dark, warm places on your body. Most commonly, ticks choose to bite around the base of your skull, in your arm-pits and other joints, or in your pubic region.

Remember that this is not an exhaustive list – depending on the clothes you were wearing and your body, a tick could choose to bite you about anywhere. 

3. Get a Tick Buddy

Checking the back of your head or anywhere on the back of your body can be very difficult. While you can accomplish this task with a small mirror, another person can really be helpful. Ticks sometimes choose to attach in very hard-to-see places, so do your best to check every area of your body. 

Guide: Check Your Dog for Ticks

1. Spot Check During Your Excursions

As you are hiking, periodically give your dog a check (especially if they just ventured near some tall grass or weeds). If you find a tick before it has time to burrow down under the hair, you will save yourself a lot of trouble.

Some hikers even carry a sticky lint-roller, which can easily pick up ticks that have crawled onto your pet. 

2. Post-Hike Check

When you get back to your vehicle after a hike, this is a great time to give your dog a more thorough check. Start at the head, and work your way to the tail. Have your dog lay on its back, and give them a belly-rub.

Then, check again from the head to the tail on this side. If your dog has long hair, the best practice is to rub the hair against the grain so you can see all the way down to the skin.

Go slow! Nymph ticks are very small and can easily wiggle out of the way as you search. 

3. 24 Hour Check

After you return home, give your dog another thorough check less than 24 hours after your hike. If you missed any ticks during the post-hike check, now is your chance to find them before they potentially pass a disease to your pet.

Remember, even dogs can get Lyme disease! So, it is important to do thorough checks after every hike. In your home, you can use a flashlight to help illuminate all the way down to the skin to find ticks.

Be sure to check their neck, stomach, joints, and groin area – just like you would on yourself! In the paws between the toes is another good spot to check.

How to Remove and Kill a Tick

If you do find a tick embedded in you or your dog – don’t panic! Removing and killing ticks is easy. Here are the general guidelines suggested by the CDC:

First, use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick. Try to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. Without twisting, pull the tick straight up. With steady, even pressure, the tick should detach.

Sometimes, pieces of the mouth or head of the tick are left in the wound. If you can, try to remove these pieces with tweezers as well. If you cannot remove these pieces, that is okay. The skin will push them out as the wound heals.

Next, wash the wound with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. This will help wash away any bacteria present, ensuring that the wound can heal without infection. 

To kill a tick, there are several suggested methods. The best method is putting the tick in a jar with rubbing alcohol. The tick will die in the alcohol, and you can wash it down the sink.

Alternatively, you can sandwich a tick in packing tape or flush a tick down the toilet. All of these methods ensure that a tick won’t escape and be able to bite you later.

Avoid the Nonsense Treatments

There are a number of crazy ways to remove ticks on the internet that not effective – and can actually be dangerous.

For instance, “burning a tick out” can leave you with severe burns, and “covering a tick with nail polish” can simply give a tick more time to transfer bacteria.

So, if you find a tick you should simply remove it as quickly as possible with a pair of tweezers. 

Other Tick Tips

  • Tuck your pants into your socks – this makes it harder for ticks to actually get to your skin, especially if your socks are tight. While some people suggest that light-colored socks will make it easier to find ticks, there have been some preliminary studies that light-colored clothing actually attracts more ticks! So, worry less about the color of your clothes and more about regularly checking for ticks.
  • A sticky lint-roller is your best friend – lightweight and easy to pack, a lint roller is a great way to grab any ticks that have found their way onto your clothing or your dog.
  • Consider carrying a small container full of rubbing alcohol – if you find a tick, you can throw it into this container to quickly kill it and ensure that it can’t bite anyone else. Something like an old small spice jar can work well for this purpose.
  • Use Permethrin as a repellent and tick insecticide – permethrin is a synthetic insecticide that repels ticks. Permethrin treated clothing reduces tick bites by 3-times! Plus, permethrin-treated clothing can last up to 1-year, even after washing multiple times.

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