How to Remove a Tick

- Never allow a tick to remain attached! -

Summary: The most important thing to remember about a tick bite is to remove the tick as quickly as possible! Prompt removal will significantly reduce the possibility of a tick-borne illness. See our suggestions for safe removal of ticks.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)
my resume

Ticks (see What are Ticks?) bite to obtain blood from people and pets. Tick bites can be pretty disguisting (right) but the real danger is in the possibilty of getting diseases from ticks. You can prevent ticks from biting in the first place by using repellents, on people, and flea and tick medications on pets but if ticks manage to bite anyway you must act quickly to remove them.

Remove ticks immediately!

The prompt removal of ticks whenever they are found, whether on people or pets, is the single most important thing you can do to protect against tick-borne diseases like Lyme Disease. There is evidence that disease transmission occurs only after many hours of feeding so the quicker the tick is removed the less chance there is for disease organisms to be spread.

engorged tick

Engorged (feeding) tick on scalp. Thumb (upper right) shows scale. Photo from Wikipedia.

You might be surprised how often people tolerate a tick they find attached to themselves or their pet because of the "it's yucky, I don't want to touch it" factor -- this is foolish and even dangerous. Below are some suggestions for safely removing ticks, but the bottom line is: remove ticks as soon as they are found by whatever means available!

What not to do for tick bites

Knowing what not to do when confronted with a biting tick may be almost as important as knowing what to do. Don't put anything on the tick in a effort to "smother" it in the hope of forcing the tick to "let go". The fact is that when ticks bite they seal their mouthparts ("head" end that bites) onto the wound and they are unable to back away until feeding is complete. Also, try not to squeeze the tick as this may disgorge fluid and disease organisms into the wound.

What to do with a biting tick

The easiest, and safest, way to remove a tick is to grab it by the mouthparts and pull straight up. Obviously, the difficult part is to securely grab the mouthparts! Here are a few suggestions:

Use one of the the new tick removal tools that slip over the tick and pinch the mouthparts (google "tick removal tool"). Or, use a loop of strong sewing thread or fishing line to "lasso" the mouthparts by passing the loop over the back of the tick and pulling on the ends of the line until the tick pops off. A stiff fishing line works better. Or, you can also use curved tweezers to carefully snag the mouthparts but be careful not to stab your "patient" with the pointed end.

If the tick has embedded itself into soft tissue you may not be able to see the mouthparts. In this case, grab the tick's body as gently as possible and twist it out trying not to squeeze it any harder than necessary. Don't worry if the mouthparts break off in the wound; at worst they will cause a minor secondary infection.

Finally, clean the wound and apply an otc ("over-the-counter") antibiotic. Keep an eye on the bite for a few days to make sure any infection does not get worse. If the area around the wound looks inflamed or is tender or if a "bulls eye" rash develops and grows seek medical attention.

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