How to Get the Tick Out

Speed is more important than technique when removing a tick, but it helps to know which tool works best and how to use it.

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It’s creepy enough that there are billions of these tiny insects living in the woods and fields, just waiting to latch onto your dog (or you!) and suck your blood. Bloating themselves with blood, ticks expand in size exponentially before falling off, able now to reproduce – gross! Add in the fact that a certain percentage of ticks may also infect your dog  (or you!) with a disease that can cause pain and suffering for the rest of his life – that’s beyond creepy. I lack words to describe the sheer perniciousness of this insect’s survival strategy.

Most of us are aware that ticks can be infected with the spirochetes (microscopic bacterial organisms) that cause Lyme disease (for more information, see Lyme Disease in Dogs, WDJ October 2018).  But, depending on what part of the country you live in, the ticks around you may carry any number of  other spirochetes that cause other painful diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and more.

Parasites in Parasites

These spirochetes are parasites of the ticks themselves! Ingeniously, they use ticks to help them move from one host to another. When a tick sucks blood from an infected mammal, bird, or reptile (common hosts include mice, chipmunks, deer, birds, and lizards) the spirochetes come aboard and set up shop inside the tick; when the infected tick bites its next host, the spirochetes slip into the new victim through the tick’s saliva. The longer the tick feeds, the longer the spirochetes have to infect the tick’s newest host.

Not all ticks carry the spirochetes that cause disease in mammals. The rate of their infection varies by geographic location, species and life-stage of the tick, and species of spirochete. Most prevalent is the species that causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi. In southern New England – the epicenter of Lyme infection – about 20 to 30 percent of tick nymphs and 30 to 50 percent of adult ticks are infected with B. burgdorferi. In other parts of the country, B. burgdorferi may be found in fewer than five percent of ticks.

How to Protect Your Dog

To protect your family members from tick-borne disease, then, your job is two-fold: Do everything that you can to keep ticks off of your dog, and quickly find and remove any ticks that do manage to climb aboard.

We’ve discussed oral and topical pesticides that are fed to or applied to dogs to kill ticks in other articles (see Prescription Flea and Tick Medication, WDJ September 2017). But it’s clear to anyone who uses prescription or over-the-counter medications or spot-on products, tick collars, essential oils, or anything else, that no matter what you use, some ticks will manage to climb aboard and bite your dog. So let’s talk about the second tactic for protecting your dog from tick-borne disease: Getting the ticks off your dog ASAP.

How to Remove Ticks

I have heard countless methods for tick removal: Paint a tick with nail polish and it will detach from the dog to avoid being suffocated. Touch a just-extinguished match to the tick’s body so it pulls itself out. Pull while turning the tick clockwise. No – pull while turning counter-clockwise! All of these tactics are ineffective; don’t do any of them!

It’s actually quite simple: Just try to get a good grip on the tick, as close to the dog’s skin as possible, and pull it straight out.

Note that I said simple, not easy. Ticks are tiny. Your dog may be squirming. If his coat is thick, it might be hard to isolate the tick in your grip. You may end up pulling, or being impeded by, his hair, too. And if your fingers are thick, you run the risk of squishing the tick between them as you pull, which can result in squeezing the contents of the tick’s mouth and guts into your dog! Ack! That actually increases the chance of infecting your dog with any disease-carrying spirochetes that the tick might be hosting!

Tweezers can be used more effectively than your fingers, but they, too, pose the risk of squeezing the tick and squirting that potentially pathogenic-filled tick spit into your dog’s body.

Instead, use a tick pulling tool with a V-shaped slot. Slide the tool between your dog’s skin and the tick’s body, wedging the tick’s body into the tightest part of the tool’s crevice. When you feel that the tick is securely lodged in the slot, pull upward on the tool and – pop! The tick  comes right out.

Tick Tool Time

There are any number of tick-pulling tools on the market. Many of them are basically tweezers. They may have longer stems or sharper points than tweezers meant for other purposes, but they all pose the risk of squeezing the tick as you grasp it hard enough to pull it out.

The superior tools for this purpose all have the V-shaped slot that you wedge the tick’s body into, effectively using its … shoulders? … as leverage for when you pull.

The best tick-pulling tools have a few specific attributes that increase their effectiveness:

  • They are made of a strong yet thin material. The tool has to be thin enough to slide between the tick’s body and the dog’s skin, along both sides of the tick’s … neck?
  • They are possessed of a V-shaped slot that is narrow enough at the bottom of the V to trap and leverage against the narrowest of tick … shoulders? (The tick’s body, basically.) If the V is not vanishingly narrow at the bottom, the tool won’t capture the tiniest ticks.
  • They are of a size and shape that is easy for even thick-fingered people to grasp securely and that can be slid under the tick’s body easily.

We tested several tick-removal tools with V-shaped slots, and our favorites are described below. We purchased all of these products on Amazon.com. We like to support local pet supply stores, but these products are rarely found in stores.

Tick-Removal Tools

18 COMMENTS

  1. Does the head have to be removed? I always understood that it did, but lately I am hearing that it does not, and your article doesn’t mention that.

      • Not exactly. The spirochetes that cause disease are in the tick’s stomach. They enter the dog in the tick’s saliva — and generally, they enter the dog when the tick sort of spits into the dog when it’s done feeding, when it’s removing its mouthparts from the dog. Whatever spirochetes that may be present in the tick’s mouthparts when the tick is feeding are already there. The point of removing the tick is to cut off the source of MORE spirochetes entering the dog’s body. If the head is left behind, only the spirochetes that already had access to the dog’s body are left behind. At least the stomachful of spirochetes was removed.

        The tick’s mouthparts or even part of its head does sometimes get left in the dog’s skin, even with the best of tick-removing tools. Don’t worry. It is like any other foreign body that gets lodged in the dog’s skin, like a splinter. The body will encase it and reject it, just like a splinter, and it will scab up and come off within a week or two.

  2. We use a product called Ticked Off. We all keep one on our key chains as there’s a hole in the handle to do so. Basically a scoop shape like a small spoon with the v cut in it.

    Bob

  3. I ordered the tick twister one from wish.com. It was two sets (each set has the big & little piece) for $3, including shipping…

    I love wish…lol

  4. We use a product called the “Tickzapper”. It is a pen-shaped device, and you put the small compartment on the end over the tick, press a button, 2 clicks, and the tick is given a small electric shock, they throw themselves out of the dog’s skin, dead as doornails. No pain to the dog. I am an environmental planner and my husband is a surveyor, and in the course of our work we both pick up lots of ticks too – we have used it to get ticks off of us head and all, painlessly, even the tiniest of deer ticks! I swear by it!

  5. Hello… I have a double coated German shepherd and he is suffering from this ticks problem. Is it advisable to shave off his coat to tackle this problem? Experts say the coat is the dogs protet. Please advise. I am from New Delhi India.

    • Leave the coat on – but use some sort of tick-killing topical or collar, like the Seresto collar. That should take care of *most* ticks. Removing individual ticks manually is for the ones that are able to resist the tick-killing pesticides.

  6. My mom taught me a great tip- simply place a drop or two of an oil (I recommend olive oil) on the tick near it’s head- wait a few seconds and the tick will have released from the dog and it makes it really easy to remove with tweezers. I’ve pulled about 20 ticks off this way this month and it really works. Without the oil you end up pulling and tugging on the tick and it takes a lot longer to remove. Any oil will work but I like olive oil because if my dog licks it after the tick is off it won’t hurt him. I tried peppermint oil but my dog would cry and try to get away from it- I think it burned at the site of the bite. Hope this helps

  7. tickencounter.org is a great website – resource. They suggest using pointy tweezers, grip the tick by the head, as low as you can and pull slowly. They have a video showing you how. You can send dead ticks to be tested for disease if you are worried.
    Flea combing your dog also captures crawling ticks before they latch on.
    Also a hair dryer set to cool can help you search through your dog’s fur for latched on ticks.
    I also use child level bug spray on my dog when we hike. And sometimes we don’t take him if it is too ticky. I have spent the rest of an afternoon searching for ticks on him after a hike and that is no fun.

  8. I’m surprised the tick key was rated on the low end. I’ve used it for a couple years now and find it to be the best tick remover and the easiest I have ever used! Gets the entire tick off in one piece!

  9. I live in VA and my dog seldom gets a tick on him… and when it happens it is so easy to just pull it of off him that I often wondered are those ticks at all. I walk him every day everywhere, those are long walks and he rolls! and check him while wipe him afterwards. For quite a few years already I use “Cedarcide’’ on him, but since he hates spray I mix a little into his shampoo and he’s good for the month. Nothing laches on him. I see mosquitos come near him and then quickly fly away. I love it.

  10. I too am surprised the Tick Key wasn’t recommended. I’ve been using them for several years with great success. The only time I ever had a problem with it was when I had a tick embedded on the back of my arm and I just could’t reach it wit anything I tried to use, no fault of the Tick Key.

    I love the commenter’s recommendation of using a hair dryer. I’ve also recently read about using sticky lint roller over the dog’s coat before getting back in the car to capture ticks before they have a chance to burrow in. I’ll be trying both.

  11. I don’t see any advice on what to do with the tick once removed. Do not throw in the toilet or trash- they live on! Put it in a jar of alcohol and wait three days- it takes that long for them to die.

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