If you have a tick bite, you need to identify the offender fast, remove the culprit from your skin, and try to preserve it for species identification by a professional. Taking these steps helps with tick-borne disease prevention and if necessary, treatment. Unfortunately, things don't always go according to plan and bites aren't always easy to identify and the origin of a bite isn't always easy to determine.
From tips for removing a tick to photos of what a tick bite might look like, here's what you need to know about tick bites to help keep you, your family and your pets safe this tick season.
What does a tick bite look like?
If a person or an animal has been bitten by a tick, one of the key signs of a tick bite is actually seeing the tick itself still stuck to the skin. Ticks require a blood meal from a human or animal host in order to grow. While ticks can embed their mouth parts in a host to feed, sometimes, a tick can be dislodged without a person even knowing they'd been bitten in the first place.
If you've recently been bitten by a tick, it can initially look like most other tiny insect bites. Tick bites may have either a small black dot in the middle or a hardened bump (similar to a mosquito bite) at the site of the bite itself.
One of the signs that you may have been bitten by a tick that can cause Lyme disease occurs within three days of having been bitten, taking the form of a dime-sized red spot. This spot expands outward within 36 hours, forming a bulls-eye pattern. This is due to an allergic reaction to tick saliva and may indicate that a person has been exposed to the organism that causes Lyme disease. It's important to seek immediate care from a medical professional if you see a bulls-eye pattern on the skin that has expanded in radius over the course of several days.
What are the signs and symptoms of tick bites on humans?
Some of the warning signs that you've been bitten by a tick may include:
- A small black dot at the site of the bite.
- A small red bump with a hardened center.
- A bulls-eye rash. particularly a rash that feels warm at the site and expands over the course of three to 30 days following a tick bite. According to the Mayo Clinic, it's important to note that if a tick-related rash that expands or forms a bulls-eye pattern that grows to 12 inches in diameter over that period of time, that tick may have been infected with Lyme disease. Please seek medical attention immediately if this is the case.
- Fever, body and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes, and lethargy may also be present alongside a rash following a tick bite.
Signs and symptoms of tick bites on pets
While it may be easier to see a rash or confirm symptoms on a human host that has been bitten by a tick, it may be more difficult to spot signs of a tick bite on a pet. Often, unless you actually see a tick attached to your pet while brushing or grooming them, you may be unaware of them having been bitten until weeks or months later.
Dogs, in particular, that spend time outdoors can be vulnerable to tick bites. According to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation (AKCCHF), thousands of dogs are infected each year with a variety of serious illnesses as a result of tick bites.
Some of the signs and symptoms of tick bites on pets you should be aware of include skin lesions, joint stiffness and high fever. These may be indicators of Lyme disease or one of many other tick-borne diseases following a tick bite. Instances of Lyme disease in cats is quite rare, however, it's more common in dogs. In addition to the previously mentioned symptoms, you may also see your dog limping as if in pain, as well as vomiting, loss of appetite and weight loss.
How to remove a tick
Ticks are parasitic pests that will attach themselves to a food source, seeking out a blood meal. Whether you spot a tick on a human or an animal companion, the steps to safely remove a tick remain the same. According to the CDC:
- Get a firm grip on the tick using a pair of tweezers. Try to grab onto the tick with the tweezers as close as possible to the skin.
- Use a firm, yet steady hand to pull the tick up and away from the skin using slow, even pressure. Do not jerk the tweezers or the tick, as this can cause the tick's mouth parts to break off and become lodged under the skin.
- In the event that a tick's mouth parts do break off beneath the skin, try to remove them. If you cannot easily remove with tweezers, it's okay to allow those parts to stay beneath the skin. They can eventually work their way out and allow the skin to fully heal.
- Once the tick has been removed, wash your hands with soap and water and clean the area with rubbing alcohol (or soap and water if unavailable).
- Following removal of a tick, it's important to dispose of it properly if you don't want to preserve it for a medical professional. To do so, the tick can be dropped in alcohol, flushed down the toilet or wrapped in tape.
- In the event that you may want to take the tick to a medical professional for evaluation to see if it carries Lyme disease, the Cleveland Clinic advises that you place the tick in a tightly sealed bag or container . Do not try to mash the tick with your fingers.
Contrary to popular belief, you should never use a lit match to “burn" the tick off of the skin, or use other substances (such as nail polish, turpentine, or petroleum jelly) to coat the tick in order to remove it. These methods are ineffective and can even increase the chance of infection.
How do ticks get on you?
Ticks can bite you anywhere on your body, but they really love moist, warm places. Ticks will often latch onto your socks or shoes, then make their way up to your groin area. If your sleeve or arm brushes up against some tick-infested grass, they may make their way up to your armpit instead.
Where should you look for tick bites?
Always check the areas mentioned above first, then check the rest of your body. Pay particular attention to any areas that have hair, especially on your head and face. It's easy for ticks to hide in hair. On both humans and pets, ticks love to attach behind and around the ears. At the nymph and larval stages, ticks will attach to the backs of pets, while at the adult stage, they tend to feed around the paws and between the toes of dogs and cats. Tick bites on humans can occur all over your body, no matter the life cycle stage, so enlist the help of a loved one to perform a thorough search of your body. Look or feel for new bumps on your skin.
How do I identify a tick bite?
Being bitten by a tick is never a good thing, but in the best case scenario, you'll know that you have a tick bite by the tick literally being attached to your body. Ticks take a long time to fully engorge themselves (how long depends on the size and life stage of the tick).
If you're practicing the recommended frequent tick checks after coming in from outdoors, chances are you'll find the tick bite while it's still attached. This is highly beneficial since ticks take at least 12 hours of feeding to transmit most tick-borne diseases. Plus, if you find the tick attached, you can remove and save it so your doctor can identify the type of tick that bit you. This is vital for monitoring and treating any diseases it might carry.
What do tick bites on humans look like if the tick isn't present?
If the tick was removed without you knowing it (e.g., in the shower, through physical impact, random scratching or the tick is simply done feeding), you might be left with just a bite mark as evidence. Within three days of a tick bite, the most common identifying mark is a dime-sized red spot. This is caused by an allergic reaction to the tick's saliva. This reaction can be worse if you've previously been bitten by the same species of tick. A tick bite mark can start off looking like any number of insect bites (even a mosquito bite, despite the fact that ticks are arachnids), so it's important to monitor any suspicious marks you may have.
How to monitor a tick bite
- Draw a circle around the site of the bite with a pen and if in 36 hours the bite expands its reddened, raised appearance, seek medical attention as this could be a sign of Lyme disease.
- Tick bites may have a black dot in the middle of them, or if the body was removed and the head and mouthparts remained in your skin, you might see a larger black mark (or even pincers).
- Some bites from ticks will have a hardened bump underneath the site of the puncture.
What is the tick bull's-eye bite?
Ticks carry many pathogens that may cause diseases, most notably Lyme disease. One of the telltale signs that you might be infected is if the bite expands, with another red circle appearing around the original site of the bite. This gives the bite the appearance of a red bull's-eye, though this doesn't have to be present in order for Lyme disease to occur.
What do I do if I develop a bull's-eye rash?
Seek immediate medical attention if you develop a bull's-eye around your tick bite.
How do you prevent ticks from getting on you?
In addition to taking precautions when you go outdoors, call Terminix® today and find out how to help protect your family and your pets from tick bites.