How to trick a tick

February 4, 2011

I recently learned a fabulous new trick from Jessica, a nurse at my hospital. I was in our treatment room preparing to remove a tick from the base of my dog’s ear. Lucky dogs, Nellie and Quinn got to tag along with my husband and me on a recent horse camping trip. Quinnie, the more adventurous of the two, returned home with a tick. When Jessica observed me in the treatment room with thumb forceps in hand (my tick removal instrument of choice), she asked, “Would you like me to show you how to spin a tick?” I’d never heard of such a thing, but I offered forth the mighty Quinn and invited her to demonstrate.

Jessica placed her index finger on the tick and then rotated her finger counter clockwise in small steady circles. I liken it to using your index finger to perform light pressure circles on the end of your nose. Lo and behold, within approximately 20 seconds the tick, completely intact, detached itself from Quinn (my boy thought he was receiving a massage). After performing this magic, Jessica assured me with utter confidence that it “works every time.”

I was thrilled by what I saw. Not only had this “old dog” learned a new trick, I was delighted by the prospect of employing a tick removal technique that is both comfortable for the patient and avoids leaving tick mouthparts behind (a source of chronic irritation for the patient). The next time you discover a tick on your dog or cat, I encourage you to don a plastic glove (prevents tick-borne infectious diseases from entering your body via a skin crack or abrasion) and try this “spin the tick” method. Please let me know if it works for you. By the way, spinning either clockwise or counter clockwise should do the trick!

Update: A few more comments regarding tick removal:

  • I cannot overemphasize the following- by all means please wear an exam glove (can be purchased at any human pharmacy) when removing ticks, via whichever method you choose. This is to help prevent potential disease transmission to you.
  • Consider saving the tick(s) in a jar of alcohol. If your pet becomes sick, you might want to have the tick species professionally identified to help determine it is the type that can transmit tick-borne disease.
  • Jen asked a fabulous question (in the comments). There are no known studies (at least that I could find) that document that this method of tick removal causes the tick to regurgitate or vomit its gut contents (where the infectious organisms reside) into the animal. What is known is that when ticks are “pulled” their mouthparts are often left behind, embedded in the skin. The mouthparts alone cannot transmit tick-borne diseases, however they commonly cause localized inflammation and sometimes even infection. In most cases, the inflammation is self-resolving with a little bit of “benign neglect” or “watchful waiting.”

We also heard today from occasional reader Dr. Michael Dryden, the Kansas State professor known as “Dr. Flea (and Tick).” He adds in an e-mail: “The hypostome of a tick does not screw in or out so twisting a tick really adds nothing to removal.  A tick with short mouth parts like Deramacentor or Rhipicephalus this is likely not a problem, but could be a major problem with Amblyomma or Ixodes.  Mouth parts of those ticks would likely be ripped off by twisting.”

Interesting! I’m grateful to Dr. Dryden for dropping in with some help. But as I noted above, mouthparts are often left behind no matter how you remove ticks, so keep an eye on the spot afterward.

Photo credit: Nellie, Susannah Kay

Filed under: pets, connected,veterinary medicine — Dr. Nancy Kay @ 5:09 am


  1. I will certainly try this come spring ! Thank you.

    Comment by Leslie K — February 4, 2011 @ 7:08 am

  2. Reading about it gives me the heebie jeebies, but I’d give it a go.

    Comment by Original Lori — February 4, 2011 @ 7:13 am

  3. I’ve read on all those “ticked off” sites that the twisting of the tick doesn’t work… so I never tried it and used the product instead. Oy, I’m trained!

    I’m going to try to twist it though, that seems logical. Will the tick spit its stuff into the dog because its being twisted/squeezed?

    Comment by Jen — February 4, 2011 @ 7:44 am

  4. Are you sure the direction doesn’t matter?

    Leftie loosey
    Rightie tighty


    Comment by CathyA — February 4, 2011 @ 7:49 am

  5. What a great post … any way we could get a video? I know that might be difficult but it would be so helpful.

    I rescue domestic rabbits that have been “set free” outdoors. Almost always, they are full of ticks, all around their necks and shoulders and under the armpits.

    If owners knew how their bunnies suffered out in the fields they wouldn’t “set them free.”

    Comment by Mary Mary — February 4, 2011 @ 7:55 am

  6. That almost sounds a little bit like Tellington Touch. Maybe the tick gets so relaxed it simply falls off?

    Comment by Ingrid King — February 4, 2011 @ 7:59 am

  7. Mary, I will happily take tick-removal video come spring. I’m afraid I can just about guarantee opportunities.

    In fact, I’ll compare this spinning technique with the two that I use now — slow and gentle manual traction and slow and gentle traction with a tick lifter.

    Comment by H. Houlahan — February 4, 2011 @ 9:12 am

  8. Remember, patience is a virtue when attempting this technique!

    Comment by Dr. Nancy Kay — February 4, 2011 @ 9:34 am

  9. I’d always heard this technique didn’t work but hearing it from you, I will at least try it the next time I come across an imbedded tick.

    Comment by Teri and the cats of Furrydance — February 4, 2011 @ 9:52 am

  10. Count me as another tick-lifter advocate. I have a “tick key” on my keychain, check over the dogs after every outing and never touch a tick.

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — February 4, 2011 @ 10:05 am

  11. OK but Dr. Kay … that means you actually have to *touch* the tick. Forty or fifty of them, sometimes. Blech!

    Cool, tho. Will have a tech try … tomorrow.

    Comment by Dr. Patty Khuly — February 4, 2011 @ 10:17 am

  12. Awesome method – I hope I remember it the next time my family dog (standard poodle) gets a tick. The last one, my Dad & sister tried getting it out the “wrong” way and lo and behold it broke in half, with one end still deep in the dog :(

    Comment by Justin C. — February 4, 2011 @ 11:13 am

  13. Fantastic, thank you!

    Comment by Dee Green — February 4, 2011 @ 11:56 am

  14. I love this blog. We get an awesome new batch of bloggers to go with the awesome batch we already have … and we also have people like Dr. Dryden who drop in to help!

    Some of you may remember Dr. Dryden from last summer, when I sat in on his tick seminar at the AVMA conference. He’s a wonderful speaker who makes ticks fun.

    Comment by Gina Spadafori — February 4, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

  15. Wow, amazing! (though I hope I’ll never have to try it)

    Our vet highly recommends the Tick Twister. This is way cooler though :-)

    Comment by Jana Rade — February 5, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

  16. Here is a link to a video of this method.

    Dr. Dryden seems to misunderstand what this method proscribes. You’re not “unscrewing” the tick. Your finger rubs the ticks body in a circular motion- but you don’t untwist the tick. In essence you’re giving the tick a fast moving (but not too rough) circular massage w/ your finger. And it’s ‘as if’ it becomes disoriented or ‘dizzy’ and lets go.

    Though- you probably need a stronger than average constitution. It’s intimate. When I’ve found ticks, I’m not calm enough to use this method. I usually spazz out and yank them and all leftover parts w/ tweezers.

    Comment by Rachel — February 6, 2011 @ 9:00 am

  17. Tried the ‘tick disorientation’ method on my dogs first ever tick today. You do indeed (gently) massage it’s body in a circle motion for a few seconds and hey presto it fell off without leaving anything behind. Why is this technique not widely know? It was so simple…..

    Comment by Tracey — March 26, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

  18. I’ve done it three times now as well, and am trying to figure out what the “catch” is.

    Comment by H. Houlahan — March 26, 2011 @ 6:44 pm

  19. Did it not work for you?

    Comment by Dr. Nancy Kay — March 26, 2011 @ 7:48 pm

  20. This sounds pretty far fetched, but it seems that it has worked time and again for many people. If my dog ever gets a tick again, I will have to remember this. My dog goes hiking quite a bit, so the best method I have found for tick removal is to use a tick preventative so your dogs don’t get ticks in the first place.

    Comment by Rick Delgado — March 26, 2011 @ 11:49 pm

  21. It worked! I didnt twist just gently massaged it in a counter clockwise fashion for about 2 minutes! I saw a vet do it before but couldn’t remember which direction. I’m so happy! Thanks for the info!

    Comment by nicole — April 19, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

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