A while back I answered a question from a reader who was worried about a suspected tick on her dog. My advice was to take the dog to the vet. I did not discuss tick removal tactics.
This was based upon an uncanny phenomenon that I have noted during my career. Call it Murphy’s law if you will. When a client schedules an appointment for me to remove a tick from his or her pet, the “tick” turns out to be a mole or a skin tag about 90% of the time.
I have seen many pets suffer needlessly as their owners have tried to yank, pry, burn, or twist moles or skin tags off their animals. Therefore, I hesitated to offer advice on tick removal because so often when a person suspects an embedded tick on their pet, they are wrong.
But what if you are absolutely, positively, 100% certain that your pet has an embedded tick? You can see the legs. You can tell the difference between an Ixodes and a Dermacentor. You are absolutely certain that your pet has a tick. What then?
In 1996, before I started vet school, I was on a flight from San Jose, Costa Rica to Los Angeles. I had spent the last week of my first trip to Central America in Corcovado National Park, a spectacular and famously tick infested rainforest in the southwest corner of Costa Rica.
As I mulled over what I might say during my upcoming vet school interview, I suffered an unpleasant revelation. Something was making my rear end itch. In the airplane’s bathroom my worst fears were realized: I had a tick embedded in my rear.
In the privacy of my Oakland apartment later that day, I discovered that the situation was more serious than I had expected. There was not one tick but twelve, embedded all over my body.
I tried lighting matches, putting them out, and using the still hot match tip to cause the ticks to withdraw. The ticks were not fazed, but I did burn myself in several places.
For my next attempt, I applied a common cold sore remedy to the ticks. No effect. Next I smothered the ticks with petroleum jelly. If the ticks noticed that I was tryikng to get rid of them, they didn’t let on. They passively rode out my efforts without batting an eye (metaphorically speaking, since ticks don’t have eyelids).
Finally, I turned to tick twisting. Using tweezers, I twisted the ticks off of my body. Success! I removed 12 tick thoraxes and 12 tick abdomens. Unfortunately, 12 tick heads were left embedded in my skin.
About eight months later, as my body was finally completing the process of digesting and eliminating the heads that were left in my body through my inept attempts at tick removal I took my first course in veterinary parasitology.
One day in class Dr. Patricia Conrad, parasitologist and expert in the field, described the best way to remove a tick. I wish I had known it sooner. I find that it removes entire ticks about 90% of the time.
Here, according to Dr. Conrad, is the best way to remove a tick from your pet:
Grasp the tick firmly wth hemostats (aka tweezers) as close to the skin as possible. Pull gently but firmly straight away from the skin until the tick comes out. Do not twist. Avoid grasping the tick’s abdomen. This can cause regurgitation of stomach contents into your pet, increasing the likelihood of Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and other scary tick-borne diseases.
Some other points: tick prevention is better than tick removal. In my experience, Frontline is the tick preventative with the best safety and efficacy profile. No tick preventative is 100% effective.
Finally, think at least six times (twice is nowhere near enough) before removing a tick from your cat. Healthy cats almost never suffer from tick infestation due to their good grooming habits.
Photo: no evidence of ticks on Tuck.