What to do about ticks: Pete the Vet podcast from Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

a tick

To listen to the podcast, see the link at the foot of this page

Is it a tick or is it a wart?

It’s common for owners to be confused between ticks and warts: they can look very similar.

  • They are both often around the size of small frozen pea,
  • They are light brown or pink
  • They are tightly attached to the skin

However a close examination will demonstrate the important difference between the two objects:

  • Ticks always have tiny legs that can be seen sticking out at right angles to the body, between the skin and the tick’s body.
  • If you are not sure whether or not you can see these, use a magnifying glass to look more closely.
  • Ticks are alive, so sometimes you may see the tiny legs move

What to do if it’s a wart

If you can’t see any legs, it’s probably small benign skin tumour, and as long as it is not bothering the animal at all, no action may need to be taken. If, on the other hand, the pet is licking it or scratching it, or if it looks red and sore, or if it is growing rapidly, then  talk to your vet about what to do.

What to do if it’s a tick

If you can see tiny legs protruding, then the object is definitely a tick, and you ought to remove it to prevent irritation and the transmission of infectious diseases to your pet. But you do need to do this correctly and carefully.

Traditional methods don’t work

The old methods for removing ticks have been discredited. Never try to burn them off e.g. using a lighted cigarette. This does not work and is likely to upset the animal. There’s no need to smear them with oil to block their breathing holes in an effort to kill them. And you don’t need to kill them with an insecticide before taking them off the animal. You can just remove ticks alive, as they are.
There are two easy ways to remove ticks.
Before doing either of these, remember that you should wear latex-type gloves if touching a tick. Ticks can carry an infectious disease, Lyme Disease, that can be passed on to humans and dogs. It’s a nasty infection, so it’s best to prevent it by avoiding all contact between yourself and any ticks.

Direct pulling

Direct pulling, using tweezers or even more simply, gloved fingers. Grasp the tick near the skin, avoiding squeezing its body, and pull outwards. If the body is squeezed, infectious tick saliva may be accidentally squirted into the animal. Care needs to be taken not to pull too suddenly, and not to pull sideways. The risk is that the tick’s head will break off, being left in the animal’s body and causing a painful abscess.

A proprietary tick removing device

My personal favourite tick removing device is called the O’Tom tick remover. Here;s a short video demonstrating its use.

It’s a small, precision engineered, plastic hook-like device that has a wedge-like slit. The v-shaped slit is slid over the tick, then the device is twisted between your index finger and thumb. This gently loosens the tight connection between the tick and the animal’s body, and it falls off.
There are several advantages to the O’Tom tick remover.

  • It doesn’t leave the tick’s head buried in the skin.
  • The device does not squeeze the tick’s abdomen during removal: this removes the risk of accidentally injecting infected blood into the animal during the process.
  • The O’Tom can remove ticks of any size, from the tiniest pinhead sized one to the biggest, grape sized tick.
  • It can be used to remove ticks in people, as well as in animals.
  • Any household that has witnessed ticks on people or animals should have an O’Tom tick remover in their first aid cupboard.
  • You can buy them from a range of outlets, including online and vet clinics.

How to prevent ticks

Simple removal of individual ticks can be the easiest answer if they are only seen occasionally. If, however, as we head into the summer, your dog regularly attracts high  number of ticks, it’s worth talking to your vet about the latest methods of preventing ticks completely. There are many methods, including:

  • sprays
  • spot-on drops
  • special medicated collars.
  • long lasting oral tablets: these are the latest, most effective medications, available on prescription only from vets. They just need to be given once a month, or once every three months, depending on the formulation.

If you have a pet that regularly exercises in a tick infested area, the oral tablets are ideal: as is often the case, prevention is so much easier than cure: trying to pull off endless ticks, day after day, is not anyone’s idea of fun.

Don’t ignore ticks: they may look harmless but they can carry harmful infections.

Questions from listeners about pets


  • What does the vet think of the latest info about the danger of arsenic inclusion in catfood which includes fish? Dr. Finola Walsh
  • My labrador is almost two, but she seems afraid to go out of her depth in the water! She loves paddling along the shore, and she will follow me into the sea if I don’t draw her attention to the fact that it’s getting deep, but once she realises that she’s out of her depth, she goes straight back to the shore. If I stay in the water trying to encourage her to come out to me, she just barks and barks while I swim. Should I keep trying with her because I know it would be great exercise to add in to her walks, or just let her be a land-baby forever?!
  • I was in the pet store the other day, and I noticed a little tub of “paw balm” for cracked paws or dry noses. My dog has little cracks in the skin of her paws, but it never seems to bother her. Do the cracks do her any harm if she isn’t showing any discomfort?
  • I have heard that you coat a tick in butter to kill it. Does that work?
  • We have a beautiful family of foxes living in dense shrubbery at the end of our garden, they come into play every day, 5 cubs look very healthy, mother is still feeding them & grooms them lovingly, although she looks a bit scrawny not surprisingly! I leave leftovers out for them & she carries it back to them, so I think she’s weaning them, am I doing the right thing as I’d feel guilty not too, any advice welcome, many thanks Angela, suburbs, Dublin
  • Can your dog pass on to its owner Lyme Disease by allowing your dog to lick your face – Spike in Ennis

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