SQUASHING THE MYTH:
REMOVING TICKS FROM OUR PETS . . . THE RIGHT WAY!!!
About twice a year, Theresa and I rent the movie, City Of
Angels, which stars the dashing Nicholas Cage and the perky little Meg Ryan.
Besides being a great love story, the movie goes a long way to pointing out many
of the sensual pleasures that this world—this stunningly beautiful world—makes
available to us mere mortals, that we (sadly) tend to overlook in our frenzied,
distracted, work-a-day lives. (By sensual, I’m referring to the word’s original
definition, the pleasures of the five senses: touch, sight, taste, hearing,
smell, and not its debased, more-recent, connotation involving sex.) City Of
Angels is about as religious a movie as mainstream, spiritually-dead, Hollywood
has come with in recent years.
I can hear it out there now: “We know it’s a great movie, Doc. But what does a
motion picture about an angel falling in love with a heart surgeon have to do
with removing ticks from our dogs and cats?” In the movie, there is a scene in
which Meg Ryan’s boyfriend (before she falls in love with Nicholas Cage) is
removing a tick from her yellow Labrador. He asks her for some olive oil. She
answers back, “flavored or unflavored?” He says it didn’t matter. She then hands
him a bottle of the unflavored olive oil, and much to my endless irritation, he
pours it on the tick before removing the critter.
Dear readers, it has been a great year for ticks. During my last Wednesday’s
office hours, I had six dogs and cats brought into my office for me to remove
their ticks. And with each treasured client, I got to hear, again, their
personally favorite technique for removing ticks. Heating or completely frying
the tick’s rear end with either a cigarette or a match seems to be quite popular
this season. I’m guessing there must have been something on Animal Planet. Over
the years, besides the barbequing butt method, I’ve seen people use olive oil,
used motor oil, rubbing alcohol, vodka, nail polish, nail polish remover,
gasoline, hair spray, tabasco sauce, Raid bug killer, Brut men’s cologne, and on
and on. All of these techniques—in my humble opinion and experience—are wrong,
and worst, are potentially deadly, for the following reasons.
When you carbonize (turn into charcoal) the ticks butt, you kill the poor thing.
When you douse the critter with whatever strange concoction you can find, it
also will kill the tick. The problem with killing the tick is that when it’s
dead, it can’t open its mouthparts, and therefore, cannot let go. Nine out of
ten times, when you pull the dead tick away, its “head” will stay in the pet—or
yourself. Or your child. (Ticks technically don’t have a head, they have a
capitulum . . . just in case you were wondering.)
But the biggest danger of killing the tick—or of just pissing it off with some
lavender-flavored olive oil (or whatever potion you happen to pour on it)—is
that in its death throes, while it is spasming, the critter can potentially
inject whatever disease it may be carrying into whoever you are removing it
The technique I use to remove ticks, is to softly grab them between my thumb and
pointer fingers as close to the skin as possible, and then apply steady, gentle,
outward traction to the critter until it lets go. I’m obligated to tell you to
wear rubber gloves while performing this procedure. The critter could
potentially be carrying Lymes disease, Babesiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever,
or Ehrlichiosis. (Thankfully, we don’t see Congo fever or typhus here in
T’burg.) With very few exceptions, most of the time the tick will let go. Once
removed, hold it up to a good light and see if its stubby little legs are
wiggling or that its mouthparts are intact. If you’re squeamish about touching
the tick, you can use tweezers.
Copyright 2006 by Richard Orzeck, DVM.
in this article is based upon the author’s personal experiences, his opinions,
and his best interpretation of the data at the time of writing. It is not intended
to render veterinary advice or service. Specific needs and questions concerning
your pet’s health should always, always, always, be addressed by his or
her best friend, their local veterinarian.