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Found a Tick? Don’t Panic. Here’s How to Safely Remove It

Woman walking with her dog in a heavily wooded area where ticks live
Zivica Kerkez/Shutterstock

Whether there’s a tick on you or your pet, if you don’t know how to remove it the right way, you may make that nasty little bug bite in deeper and end up with an infection in the process. Here’s how to check for them and remove them safely.

How to Check for Ticks

If you’ve spent time in the outdoors, especially in wooded areas, you may have come in contact with ticks. In areas populated with ticks, the ticks hang out on dense foliage, grass, trees, and bushes, waiting for a warm-animal like you, your kids, or your pets, to come strolling along before hopping on for a ride and a snack.

Ticks aren’t always easy to find, and it’s not uncommon for them to go undiscovered until you get home. They like to hide in dark areas. This means you need to check yourself from head to toe (literally).

Comb through your hair with your fingers, making sure to touch your scalp the entire time. Check in all of your nooks and crannies, and look at your back in a mirror. If you discover one in a place that isn’t visible, it might feel like a little scab (ticks are tiny and rough before they become engorged after extensive feeding). Verify that’s really a scab and not a bug!

On pets, you’ll need to do the same thing you did on your head, run your fingers through their coat all over. Check bellies and in places that a tick would like to hide, such as under their ears, behind their legs, and so on.

Most ticks are a brownish color, but there are many types of ticks, and it’ll depend on where you live on which ones are around. Different ticks carry different diseases. While not all tickborne diseases affect animals, some can, including Lyme disease. If you live in an area with lots of ticks and a high incidence of Lyme disease, talk to your veterinarian about vaccinations for tickborne illnesses as well as combination flea/tick preventatives like once-a-month pills.

How Not to Remove a Tick

While it’s important to get a tick off you or your pet as soon as possible, let’s take a moment to highlight what not to do. The CDC cautions against using “folklore” type methods. Here are those methods you should never use:

  • No Heat: Don’t use a match or a blow dryer to heat the tick to remove it.
  • No “Smothering”: Don’t coat the tick in nail polish, petroleum jelly, or even soap.
  • No Alcohol: Rubbing alcohol doesn’t work either, don’t try to kill it off with rubbing alcohol or other solvents

Not only do the techniques above not work very well, but they do they increase the chances of the very thing you’re trying to avoid: getting infection material from the tick inside your body. Burning or smothering tick is more likely to make the bug bite in more, releasing more disease-carrying saliva.

Let’s take a look at how to safely remove the tick and avoid unnecessary exposure to pathogens.

How to Safely Remove a Tick

Center for Disease Control illustration, demonstrating how to remove a tick with tweezers

If you’re removing a tick from a pet or child, you may want a second person on hand to help them hold still. If you’re handling the situation by yourself, handle it as calmly as possible to help them stay calm too. If there is a tick on you in a hard-to-reach-area, get some help removing it. Don’t panic if you can’t get it off you the second you see it— leave it alone and find someone to help out.

Here are the safest steps to follow to make sure you remove the entire tick from your skin:

  • Use your tick removal tool or fine-tip tweezers to get to the tick as close to your skin as possible—this handy tool combines tweezers for use on people with a slotted end that makes it easy to get ticks out of animal fur. You want to pull upward, removing the entire tick. Pulling sideways or twisting it may leave the mouth behind. Leaving the mouth in the skin may cause irritation.
  • If you’re unable to remove the entire tick, you can use fine-pointed tweezers to try to pull the mouth part out. If it doesn’t come easily, leave it and keep the area clean—the pieces will come out of the skin like a splinter.
  • Dispose of the tick by dunking it in rubbing alcohol to kill it and flushing it down the toilet or putting it in a plastic bag in the trash. Despite what you may have heard, the CDC doesn’t recommend keeping the tick for any testing (as such tests are unreliable).
  • Wipe the area thoroughly with rubbing alcohol and then wash it, and your hands, with warm soapy water.

Again, for emphasis, the most critical element of safe tick removal is removing it as soon as possible and removing it cleanly by grasping it at the head and pulling it out firmly without twisting or yanking.

After Care: Look Out for Rashes, Fevers, and Aches

After you’ve removed a tick, your foray in the world of gross bugs is not over. Keep an eye on the area where the bite occurred, looking for a rash. If you, your child, or your pet get rash at the bite site, a fever, flu-like symptoms, or aching joints or swelling, it’s crucial to get into your doctor or veterinarian immediately.

These are all symptoms of an infection and, potentially, Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a serious illness caused by a bacteria carried by ticks that have fed on infected wild animals. If caught early and treated with antibiotics, most people recover completely, but left untreated can cause a host of problems over time, including facial paralysis, meningitis, and other ailments.

Ticks are pretty gross, and nobody likes to find a little parasite attached to them, their kids, or their pets, but if you check carefully after visiting an area where you could be exposed to ticks and remove them promptly, the risk of any severe side effects is minimal.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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