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Nothing is more gross and disgusting to some of you than the need to remove fully engorged ticks from their nesting place amid your dog’s fur. Removing little green gooseberries plumped up with pet blood doesn’t exactly make my top-ten list of favorite pet-related activities, either. But the nasties have got to be outed, don’t they? 

Problem is, some of you worry that removing the tick will somehow cause more poblems than leaving it in. Instead of the DIY approach, then, you opt for the expensive, “gotta let the vet do it” version. And that’s really not necessary––especially when you consider that removal with alacrity is the best way to handle any tick bite. No time like the present, right?

That’s why I’m offering you this brief primer on tick extraction so that you, too, can remove them with the skill and aplomb of any veterinary surgeon. 

Tools: Do not go wild with strange, pre-extraction ablutions of the area or laying out an entire surgical kit as you prep for the deed. All you need is a simple set of tweezers or, if you’re in the woods, a ready set of fingernails. (As I mentioned, quick removal is preferable to perfection in the removal process.)

Grasp: Just pinch the creature just as its head (yep, that’s what it is) enters the skin. That is, use your tweezer tips to grasp it just at the level of the skin. And pull. Voilá! 

Never fear: Worried you left a bit of tick behind? Don’t fret. Remember, it’s always best to get the tick off, even at the risk of leaving some dreaded mouthparts behind. That’s because a dead tick can’t transmit disease. That’s also why I use...

Tick prevention products: Using one of the veterinary-only tick preventatives makes ticks unlikely to transmit “tick borne” diseases, even after they’ve attached to the skin and appear to have taken in a blood meal. It’s also the case that tick removal tends to be facilitated by tick prevention products. The more sluggish, poisoned ticks seem sometimes to just slough off without much need for sophisticated extraction beyond the use of a fingernail.

But what if...?: OK, so you’re still stuck on the whole, “I’ve-left-some-tick-bits-behind” thing. And, yes, it’s true that failure to fully remove tick parts can lead to a superficial skin infection. That’s why I make sure to re-check the area later to make sure it doesn’t look red or swollen. 

If that’s the case, or if I otherwise suspect some bits remain embedded, I will apply an Epsom salt soak to the area. That means I employ a clean washcloth soaked in a warm Epsom salt solution. I’ll apply it to the area for five minutes a couple of times a day until it looks happy and healthy. Doing so allows any possible tick parts to come to the surface while relieving swelling and infection through the not-so-magical powers of Epsom salts and water. 


OK, so that’s it. No longer do you need to fear tick removal. You, too, can get it done. But remember, if your pet’s getting ticks frequently, make sure you ask your veterinarian about the use of a tick prevention product and consider testing for local tick-borne diseases at least once a year. 


Dr. Patty Khuly

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