They're out there -- hordes of bloodthirsty parasites just waiting to make a meal of your pet. Ticks thrive in warm weather, and Leanne Kalinsky, a veterinarian with Suburban Animal Hospital in Arlington, says their levels are "insane" this season, particularly in new subdivisions.

"In this area there's lots of clearing for development, and that clearing brings the ticks out," Kalinsky says.

Ticks are found in woody areas and cling to grass and weeds, where they snag rides with passersby. They attach themselves to warmblooded animals, and can spread Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Here's how to protect your pet from these pests.

1 Build a Barrier The best treatment is to prevent ticks from attaching in the first place. Veterinarian Melvin Howard II, of Southeast Animal Hospital in the District, recommends Frontline products, which come in a liquid you spread on your pet's coat. The deterrent tick-proofs your pet for about a month, and it also kills fleas. He cautions that tick collars might not provide as much protection.

2 Check, Please Examine all pets after outings, even those treated with deterrents. Kalinsky warns that ticks can be tiny and hard to see, so examine Fido from nose to tail. Look for tiny black, brown, reddish or tan spots as you examine your pet by ruffling its fur. Pay special attention to the tail, behind and in the ears and between the toes. If there is a tick on your pet, you don't want to touch it, as diseases can be transmitted from tick to pet to human.

3 Use a Steady Hand If you find a tick, forget about folk remedies such as suffocating it with petroleum jelly or trying to make it let go by using alcohol or a hot match head. Instead, take a tissue and grasp the tick firmly between your thumb and forefinger. Gently tug until it lets go. Have patience and don't twist -- ticks are stubborn and might take a minute or two to loosen their hold. You can use fine-nosed tweezers instead of your hands, but be careful not to squeeze the tick and break it open, which increases the

risk of spreading disease.

4 Get It All When removing the tick, try to avoid separating its body from its head, which is the part that's buried in your pet's skin. "A tick's head is mostly mouth parts. If left behind, there's a foreign-body reaction -- bumps, inflammation," says Lynn Logan, a veterinarian with Friendship Hospital for Animals in the District. "If you remove it the right way, you'll get the entire tick."

5 Stop Their Tickin' Don't flush the tick down the toilet or throw it in the trash. Ticks are surprisingly hardy, and you don't want it to live to bite another day. Drown it in rubbing alcohol or seal the tick in a plastic sandwich bag, then smash it with your foot. Clean the site around the tick bite with the alcohol or another disinfectant. You can also dab the skin with an antibiotic ointment. Then use a disinfectant on your hands and any surface that came in contact with the tick.

-- Carole Moore Word

Hey there, little sucker:

Prepare to be tweezed.