Ticks are bad news: They transmit several diseases that can cause severe illness and even death in both dogs and humans, so keeping your dog tick-free is a top priority.

Huge numbers of tick eggs hatch each spring, and the young ticks climb onto grasses and other vegetation. Their sticky shells help them to cling to passing animals, including your adventurous dog.

Ticks quickly climb down the hair, attach to the skin, and begin to suck blood, only dropping off hours or days later when they are engorged. In the meantime, any microorganisms that were hitching a ride inside this insect traveler are transmitted to your dog through the tick’s mouth. So when you find one — and you will — here’s what to do:

  • Use a pair of tweezers to grasp the head of the tick where it attaches to the skin. Wear gloves if you plan to use your fingers to remove the tick.
  • Pull on the tick gently and steadily. If you yank the tick away from your dog too quickly, you’ll leave part of the tick’s mouth behind, which can cause an infection. In 20 to 30 seconds, the tick’s mouth will release its grasp and the tick will come away cleanly.
  • Dab disinfectant on the bitten area, being extremely careful if you’re around your dog’s eyes.
  • Kill the tick by placing it in alcohol.
  • Consider saving the dead tick in a re-sealable plastic bag, labeled with the date on which the tick was found. This may sound weird, but if your dog becomes ill, you may need to identify the species of tick that bit him.

If your dog becomes ill, seek veterinary attention immediately. Most tick-borne diseases can be treated successfully if a diagnosis is made quickly.