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Tick removal and prevention

This is a bit of an information post, rather than my usual story telling.

Tick Removal

There are lots of different tools out there for tick removal, and even more pieces of advice about how to do it. It was pretty hard for me to tell what actually worked when I first encountered ticks, so hopefully this will help someone else. Initially I was prepared to use tweezers for tick removal. Luckily I didn’t actually have to try this. One day in a mountain/hiking supply store I bought a small tick removal card (like a credit card, with a little notch to remove the tick). It seemed professional, well made and fairly official, so surely it would work?

No. I completely botched my first tick removal job. Whether this was because the card was useless, or that I used it incorrectly, I don’t know. Either way, if something can be botched that badly by a novice, it is probably not a good recommendation for tick removal anyway.

I had seen the O’Tom Tick Twister advertised online but was suspicious that it might just be another gimmicky tool that was hyped up but actually useless in practice. It looked too good to be true. One day a friend’s dog got a tick and she had one of these tools, so she showed me it in use. It was exceptionally easy and almost fool proof. Having seen it in action, I bought one.

When the time came to use it, it really was that easy. You simply slide it under the tick from the side, and then twist it around in a circle, or two or three. The tick detaches very easily and comes out.

I’m not going to explain any more, or rave about it. You can see everything about it on their website, including quite a neat explanation about why it works so well, whereas pulling at ticks (ie the way every other method works) doesn’t. I just want to tell everybody that this tool actually does work, and as easily and effectively as they say it does.

There are probably other non-brand-name (copy-cat) products out there, and they may work just as effectively, . . but seriously, the original Tick Twister is not expensive anyway!

Here is an image I ripped off ebay. Hopefully they don’t mind.

Sharing that information was the main reason for me writing this article. However once I was on the topic, I thought I should share some other information about tick preventation as well. After all, if you can stop them biting in the first place, removal is not necessary. My main concern with ticks is transmition of diseases and while proper and prompt removal can minimise the risk of this, it can still happen from any bite.

Human Prevention

When I first came over here (Scotland) to go hiking I was very concerned about ticks, not because I’m squeamish about creepy-crawlies, but because I thought that if you got bitten you had a pretty high chance of getting Lymes disease, and that it was untreatable. It turns out that actually quite a lot of people are bitten by ticks and don’t get Lymes disease, and also that if you do get it, and are treated with antibiotics reasonably quickly, it is almost always completely curable. Still, I’m very glad that I took the care I did and didn’t get any tick bites on my hiking trip last year. The precautions that I took were:

  1. Always wear long sleeves, long pants and use gaitors or trouser twists (which basically tuck your trousers in so the ticks can’t climb up your legs)
  2. Treat clothes and tent with permethrin (the treatment lasts for several washes or several weeks, whichever comes first)
  3. Avoid unnessary contact with vegetation
  4. Thoroughly check for ticks every night, and spot check hands/wrists after pushing through bushes.

As I said, I was paranoid. However I only saw two ticks, and didn’t have any bites, and believe this is at least partially due to my precautions.

Please note, if you are going to treat clothing and equipment with permethrin, do your research and follow the instructions. Make sure you use the correct concentration of chemical for your own safety. For the safety of other things be aware:

  1. Permethrin is poisonous to cats.
  2. Permethrin is poisonous to most aquatic creatures. Do not put freshly treated equipment in streams, especially do not tip excess into waterways. I was even careful to wash my treated clothing in a bucket and not directly in natural waterways. I think once the chemical has bonded to the fabric it is safe, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful.
Me, in full tick prevention attire.

Me, in full tick prevention attire.

Animal Prevention

This year, I brought my dog with me. I was much more concerned about ticks on him, partly because I can’t use any of my human precautions on him so he would probably get bitten (dogs can get Lymes disease, and other diseases, too), but also because I was worried he would bring ticks back and then they’d bite me.

I investigated tick collars, but since the chemicals are usually toxic to aquatic creatures and Merlin spends half his life sitting in streams, this wasn’t really a responsible option. There are also a lot of warnings associated with tick collars (although possibly only because not as much research has been done on them) so I wasn’t that comfortable with them.

I chose a spot-on treatment. There are several different chemicals used in spot-on treatments – some of these prevent development of the critters (these things usually affect fleas as well, amongst other things), some attack the nervous system, killing the critter. Most treatments use a combination of chemicals. A very common treatment, Frontline, uses fipronal. However, research indicates that fipronal is only 60% effective at killing ticks (when used as instructed), whereas permethrin is 99% effective. This difference is startling, and I was not willing to use a product that is only 60% effective. Interestingly, Frontline is much more common, and comes with fewer warning signs, to the point where the permethrin products (eg Advantix) are actually dispensed as “prescription only” in the UK. This is possibly because, as already mentioned, permethrin will kill cats so you need to be extremely careful if you have a cat as well.

Having just done a little more research (you can see some additional papers in the links on the right hand side of the page of the research above), there are actually quite conflicting results. I just happened upon the one that massively favoured permethrin . . . but it is also the research specifically done using the main transmittor of Lymes disease in Europe. Feel free to do your own research.

I chose Advantix and my experience with it has been extremely good. Firstly, no side affects. Secondly, Merlin has had hardly any ticks. Actually, there have only been two instances where he has had tick bites and they were both just before he was due to be retreated, during a cycle in which I washed him with shampoo a couple of times. Advantix is water-resistant, after 24 or 48 hours, so Merlin can swim as much as he wants and I can wash him down with water as often as I need to. This is essential for me. However, the instructions clearly state that washing with shampoo will reduce the efficacy of the product. I’ve found I can usually wash him once with shampoo in a treatment cycle (1 month) and it is still OK, but washing him twice does seem to reduce the longevity of the product.

I’m also happy with this product because not only does it kill ticks, it either does it quickly enough that they don’t bite him, or else it also repels them ie I’m not finding dead ticks stuck to him all the time. Many of the products warn that death is not instantaneous so ticks may still be able to bite the animal, but will then die. Not what I wanted as this means they could still be transmitting diseases.

Based on this, I would recommend Advantix. If you chose to use it, you should obviously read all the safety instructions and be aware of the following:

  1. Don’t let the dog into natural waterways 24 or 48 hrs (I can’t remember which) after treatment – as mentioned, permethrin is toxic to aquatic organisms. Once it’s soaked in to the dog it’s safe, but not immediately after treatment.
  2. Likewise with cats – if you have cats don’t let them near your dog immediately after treatment.
  3. Wash with shampoo as little as possible, and re-treat earlier if you have to wash them

We have tested this product thoroughly, although not scientifically. Merlin spends many hours running through thick heather, bracken, tall grass and occasionally woodlands. He is quite often around sheep and wild deer (amongst other animals). We have frequently been out with other people and dogs where they have found ticks, and we have had none. He is also submerged in water at least every second day, if not several times a day, so we can vouch for the water-resistance of it.

Please be aware that ticks do vary from country to country. Paralysis ticks in Eastern Australia are a particularly different case I believe, so if these are your concern, please do your own research specifically about them.

A typical scene with Merlin.

A typical scene with Merlin.

If you have any questions about any of this, feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to answer. There is also loads of other information out there about ticks, tick diseases, treatments, prevention etc etc. I’m pretty sure you can find it yourself, rather than me providing a huge list of links. (If you would like some links to further information, just let me know)

Apparently at this point I’m supposed to write some disclaimer about how I bought all these products with my own money and nobody’s paying me to say this stuff. I did, and they’re not. I wish they would!

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2 Comments

  1. Jen says:

    Good advice! Moving to the tropics we were horrified by the number of ticks our dogs got! Luckily they are not paralysis ticks and their numbers rapidly decline in the dry season. We use Advantix and in the peak of the wet use tick collars as well. We also conduct daily tick checks (which the doggies love, coz to them it’s just big cuddle time!). For removal, we have found tweezers to be the way to go, we pluck them out and place them in a tub of cooking oil for disposal. As for human ticks, we just use tweezers. Gross little creature!

    • Helen says:

      I also try to do regular checks, and that is also good advice, but Merlin is so big and hairy that I know I can miss them. One of my WA friends has also said they used tick collars for their dogs in Qld too and swear by them for good, long lasting protection.
      My concern with tweezers is that it’s very easy to squeeze the tick which makes them spit (or vomit) which can transmit diseases. Presumably the ticks up there (north western Australia) don’t have nasty diseases so this isn’t as much of a concern. Also obviously if you are not gentle enough you can pull their head off . . . . clearly you are skilled enough to not do that, but I’m not sure I am!!
      I don’t know about up there, but some of the ticks here are really tiny. Not as “yucky” as big huge ticks, but kind of scary in how hard they are to find, let alone remove properly!

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