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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Tick Removal

By Michael L. Levin, PhD, Medical Entomology Laboratory Director, Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Ticks found attached to people or domestic animals should be removed immediately. The longer a tick remains attached to the skin, the more pathogen- and/or toxin-containing saliva is being injected into the host. Therefore, prompt removal is imperative. Several tick removal devices are on the market, but ticks are most effectively removed by a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers.

The CDC recommends the following method of tick removal: 1) Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. 2) Pull upward with steady, even pressure. 3) Do not twist the tick, because this will cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens and the mouthparts cannot easily be removed with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal. Chances of a local infection being caused by remaining tick mouthparts are insignificant compared with the risk of pathogen transmission by an attached tick. 4) Avoid crushing the tick. Do not squash the tick with your fingers; the contents of the tick can transmit disease through skin abrasions. 5) After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

Avoid folklore remedies such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly or using a hot match to make the tick detach from the skin. The goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible, not to wait for it to detach. Using irritants such as petroleum jelly, a hot match, or alcohol will not cause the tick to "back out" and in fact, may cause more disease-carrying tick saliva to be deposited in the wound.