How to remove a tick from a human or animal

With cases of Lyme disease and tick bites appearing to be more frequent, I looked into how to remove a tick from a human as I spend most of my holidays in Scotland which is known to have large populations of sheep and deer ticks.

Lyme disease in the news

Lyme disease (sometimes mistakenly referred to as Lyme's disease) is becoming more well-known in recent months as it's been reported that some singers and celebrities, including Avril Lavigne and Amanda Palmer, in the USA have contracted the disease. Ticks and Lyme disease have also featured on BBC1's Countryfile. I work in an office of 11 people and 3 of us have relatives or close friends who have Lyme disease and one received a diagnosis so late that he has had to pay over £50,000 to have treatment in the US.

How to remove a tick

Ticks are disgusting as they bury their heads in the host's body to get their supply of blood so it's only natural to want to rip it out as soon as you discover it. It's really important that you resist that urge though and remove it safely to minimise the risk of disease.

  1. Remove a tick as soon as possible as the longer a tick remains in your body the greater chance you have of it transmitting bacteria that can cause diseases, such as Lyme disease.
  2. You need to remove all parts of the tick’s body and stop it releasing additional saliva or regurgitating its stomach contents into your bite wound. A tick's saliva contains irritating substances and sometimes micro-organisms that can lead to infections and/or allergies.
  3. The best thing to use is a special tick remover tool. Although, you could use tweezers and other instruments, they exert pressure on the tick which could cause the tick to regurgitate its stomach contents into the bite. Tick removers are cheap and widely available. We use the O'Tom Tick Twister which comes as a pack of two different size tools. Ticks can vary in size from a poppy seed to a small spider so it's useful to have these two tools to help remove different size ticks. The tools can be used on people and animals. It has easy-to-follow instructions and is simple to use. The tools are small and can easily be carried in a rucksack or pocket. I never go out for a walk without them.
  4. Watch the video below shows how to use the O'Tom Tick Twister but I suggest you read the instructions too just to be on the safe side. You can support the charity, Lyme Disease Action, by buying these and insect repellent through their shop.

After tick removal

  1. Use antiseptic to clean the tool and after you've removed the tick, you should clean the bite site and the tool with antiseptic.
  2. Wash hands thoroughly afterwards.
  3. Save the tick in a container in case a doctor asks for evidence that you have been bitten (label it with date and location). Public Health England is also currently running a Tick Recording Scheme (TRS) and would like you to post them any ticks you find.

Other types of tick remover

There are also tick removers which are the shape and size of a credit card so can be kept in a purse or wallet. See tick remover card.

Don'ts

  • Don't kill the tick before removing it.
  • Don't squeeze the body of the tick, as this may cause the head and body to separate, leaving the head embedded in your skin.
  • Never use your fingernails to remove a tick as infection can enter via any breaks in your skin, e.g. close to the fingernail.
  • Don't crush the tick’s body, as this may cause it to regurgitate its infected stomach contents into the bite wound.
  • Don't try to burn off the tick, apply petroleum jelly, nail polish or any other chemical. Any of these methods can cause discomfort to the tick, resulting in regurgitation, or saliva release.

Lyme disease rash

Much of the information about Lyme disease mentions a bullseye rash. A friend contracted Lyme disease whilst on holiday in Scotland and there wasn't a bullseye rash so please don't rely on this. He was ill quite soon after being bitten with flu-like symptoms for several days before seeming to get better. The flu-like symptoms re-appeared the following week. It was only when he returned home 2 weeks later and broke out in large patches of rashes which covered his torso and arms that he decided he should visit the doctor and tell them that he had been bitten by a tick.

Fortunately, his doctor suspected Lyme disease and conducted tests which proved positive for a rare type of Lyme disease. The other interesting thing about the ticks in this instance were that they weren't in long and overgrown vegetation but on the grass of a fairly short mown lawn. This is why it's vital to check yourself, or even better get someone else to check for you, when you've been outside. I don't want to cause panic but it's taking these precautions that could prevent you from being ill.

How to remove ticks from dogs and cats

To remove ticks from dogs and cats, the safest and most effective way is to use a specially-designed tick tool and the O'Tom Tick Twister can be used on both people and animals.

Further reading about ticks and Lyme Disease

  1. Lyme Disease Action
  2. NHS Choices – Lyme disease

Have you or someone you know been bitten by a tick? Do you know someone who has suffered with Lyme disease?


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