Not only do ticks look creepy, but they can cause serious diseases like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, tularemia, and babesiosis for both you and your dog.
What do you do if you find a tick stuck on you? What’s the best way to get rid of it? The following post answers these questions, as well as how to remove a tick head after the body is gone, and many other tips for dealing with ticks.
26 Tick Questions: Answered
Picture this: you are out for a nice, relaxing hike through the woods with your family and the ever-present family dog to try to spot that weird bird you heard was hanging out in the area.
You found your bird! It was gorgeous and your family had a great time. But when you get home, you find that pretty much everyone picked up a nasty hitchhiker; a tick. Now what?!
Let's educate ourselves on how to deal with these pesky parasites and debunk some common myths about ticks.
1. What do you do if the tick's head breaks off?
Yikes! You found a tick stuck in your skin and tried to get it out, but it looks like the head is still there inside your skin. What do you do?
Maybe it will make you feel better to know that ticks don’t even have heads. They have a system of mouthpieces that work together to locate the best feeding positions and draw blood.
These different mouth parts can only be seen under a magnifying glass but with the naked eye resemble a head.
But still, isn’t it dangerous for the tick parts to be left inside you? While there is a possibility of developing an allergic reaction or infection from the tick’s saliva, the chances are pretty slim.
Most of the time, there’s no need to panic because your skin will naturally shed it out. Trying to dig out the leftover tick fragments could set you up for secondary infection.
However, if you don’t want to take any chances, or if you’re just too grossed out at the thought of nasty insect parts being inside your skin, the following steps show you how to remove a tick head after the body is gone:
- First, wipe the bite area with rubbing alcohol.
- Using a sterile needle, prod the skin to uncover the tick head and pick it out.
- Wash both your hands and the bite area with soap and water to prevent any tick disease.
- Apply antibiotic ointment.
2. Can a tick head regrow its body?
You may have heard the myth that if a tick’s head breaks off and loses its body, the tick will regrow another one.
This is completely false because, as noted above, ticks do not have heads. Once the body is separated from the mouthparts, the tick is dead and can't regrow anything.
3. Can a tick go completely under the skin?
No, a tick will not go completely under the skin. Only the tick’s mouth parts burrow into the skin to draw blood, leaving its body to stick out on the surface of the skin.
As the tick feeds on blood, its body swells and turns to a bluish-gray color. No matter how long a tick is allowed to feed, it will never completely disappear beneath the skin.
However, the longer the tick is left attached, the higher the risk is for disease transmission.
4. Why you should never suffocate a tick while it’s embedded
If you do an Internet search on how to remove a tick, you may discover some web content suggesting that you suffocate the tick with products like nail polish, butter, oils, aftershave, and toothpaste.
While some people say it works perfectly for them, many health websites state that suffocating a tick is harmful because it can distress the tick and cause it to vomit up disease-ridden organisms into your bloodstream.
5. How do you remove a tick that is embedded?
So, you’ve found a tick that is embedded in your skin. Or, maybe it’s in your child or your pet. It’s important to remove the tick as quickly as possible to prevent any potential disease and infection from developing.
What You Need:
- Pointy tweezers (not the ones with the flat, squared tips because these can tear the tick)
- Rubbing alcohol (or soap and water)
- Clean the skin area around the tick (but not the tick itself!) with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- Using the tweezers, grasp the part of the tick that is the closest to the skin. (Never use your bare hands.)
- Gently but firmly, pull straight up. (Avoid twisting or jerking because this can tear the tick, causing any infectious fluids to spill out.)
- After removing the tick, clean the bite area again with the rubbing alcohol (or soap and water).
After the correctly removing the tick, you want to kill it so that it doesn’t breed more ticks in your home. Don’t crush it because infectious blood and saliva can squirt out on you.
Instead, use the tweezers to drop the tick in a container of rubbing alcohol, bleach or vinegar. It might take days before the tick dies but keep the tick submerged until you are sure it’s dead.
Afterward, you can seal the dead tick in a clear sandwich bag. You can also contain it in an old prescription bottle or jar with a lid screwed on securely.
You may also want to make note of the date you removed the tick and from what location on the body. This information can be used to give to a doctor if you wish to test the tick for diseases.
Keep an eye on the bite area for the next 30 days and watch for any symptoms of disease or infection. These symptoms can include:
- Chills or fever
- Headaches, muscle aches, or joint pain
- Swollen lymph nodes (such as the groin or armpit)
- Rash, especially one that resembles a red “bull’s eye” spreading from the bite area
6. Can you use rubbing alcohol to remove a tick?
You may have heard or read that rubbing alcohol can be used to make a tick let go of the bite area and fall off.
While this may work sometimes, it is not always effective, so it’s not recommended.
However, you do want to make sure you use rubbing alcohol after removing the tick to prevent infection from developing.
7. Can you remove a tick with Vaseline?
Smother a tick with Vaseline. That’s the advice some people offer for tick removal, but this may not be the wisest of remedies.
The reason is that smothering the tick will only irritate it, causing the tick to salivate or throw up fluids that may contain diseases or bacteria.
Plus, you don’t want to sit around waiting and watching for the tick to die a slow suffocation death. The goal is to get the tick out quickly once you discover it.
8. How do you remove a tick with a cotton ball?
In the last decade, you may have received forwarded emails or seen social media posts about the wonder-working remedy of removing a tick with a cotton ball.
These claims suggest that swiping the tick with a cotton ball that’s been soaked with soap and water will cause the tick to release its grip. While this may be true in some cases, health organizations warn against it because it’s not always effective.
Not only is there no medical evidence to back up these cotton ball claims, but this is yet another home remedy that requires you to wait for the tick to let go. It’s important to get the tick out immediately after first spotting it.
9. Can you use hydrogen peroxide to remove a tick?
Like rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide can be used to clean around the bite area before and after removing the tick, but it shouldn’t be used directly on the tick before removal.
The hydrogen peroxide can aggravate the tick, causing it to release toxic saliva into the bloodstream.
10. Can Salt kill ticks?
You may have used salt as an effective, natural remedy for killing fleas in your home, but you should never use it for removing a tick that is embedded in you or your pet.
For one reason, there is little evidence that salt kills ticks, but more importantly, salt can cause a tick to panic and release harmful toxins and bacteria into the bite area as a defense mechanism.
11. Can bleach kill ticks?
Yes, bleach can kill ticks, but you probably don’t want to use the bleach directly on the tick while it’s embedded in the skin.
Not only will this irritate the tick and make it spill its nasty guts into your bloodstream, but the bleach may also irritate your own skin.
If you’ve been outside walking in tick-infested areas, it’s a good idea to throw your clothes into a heated dryer immediately after coming indoors. The heat will kill the ticks.
Afterward, you should wash the clothes in bleach or detergent with a bleaching agent and then repeat the hot dryer process.
You can also use a solution of bleach and water to wash off your porch or patio if you’ve noticed ticks nearby.
12. Do ticks fall off on their own?
Yes, after one of these blood-suckers gorges itself, it will detach. How long this takes depends on the species, the tick’s life cycle, or just how hungry it is.
A tick can remain attached to its host anywhere from a few hours to a week, but typically, it’s between 3 and 6 days. You will know when a tick is engorged because it looks really fat and gross like a rotting grape.
If you find a tick that has naturally fallen off your pet, be sure to dispose of it because it can go on to breed more ticks. Be sure to pick it up by the head with tweezers so that you avoid squeezing and bursting the engorged body.
13. Can you drown a tick?
Believe it or not, it’s difficult to drown a tick. They don’t swim, but they can survive underwater for a long time whether that be in a swimming pool, bathtub or washing machine.
If you or your pet has an embedded tick, don’t attempt to kill it by putting it underwater. You would have to remain in that position for days before the tick actually died.
Plus, killing the tick while it’s embedded is always a bad idea because if distressed, the tick can release harmful bacteria or disease-causing organisms into the bite area.
14. Do ticks wash off in the shower?
If a tick hasn’t embedded itself yet, it may wash off in the shower. If it has already latched onto the skin, a shower (hot or cold) most likely will not wash it off.
However, taking a shower after being outdoors in tick-prone areas is a good idea because it gives you the opportunity to check your body for ticks. Make sure you search your scalp and around your ears as well as the rest of your body.
15. What happens if the tick's head stays in?
It’s natural to freak out a little knowing that you still have a little part of a tick left inside you, but as long as the body has been removed, you should be fine.
The skin should normally heal itself and shed the tick’s fragmented mouthparts without any further complications.
But, if you are a person who doesn’t like taking chances, you can follow the steps on how to remove a tick head after the body is gone above in tip #1 of this list.
16. Do all ticks carry disease?
The answer is no, they do not. However, since you can’t tell if a tick is disease-laden or not by appearances only, it’s a good idea to take all ticks seriously.
Various tick species in different geographical regions carry different kinds of diseases. Anytime you discover a tick, you should remove and dispose of it properly and watch the bite area for any symptoms of infection.
17. What are the chances of getting Lyme disease from a tick bite?
Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria that is transmitted from black-legged ticks, commonly called deer ticks. According to disease control and health organizations, your chances for getting Lyme disease from a tick bite remain low.
So, if you see a tick roaming around on your skin, or it has been attached less than 24 hours, your chances are pretty slim.
Your chances are higher if:
- You live in a northern temperate forested region such as central and eastern Europe or northeastern, north-central and Pacific coastal USA. These are the areas of most reported Lyme disease infection.
- You work or play outdoors in grassy, wooded areas.
- The tick has been attached to your skin for more than 24 hours.
You can decrease your chances by:
- Avoiding tick-infested areas, especially between the months of May through July
- Using insect repellant
- Completing a full-body check on you and/or your pet after spending time in tick-prone areas
- Keeping your lawn mowed
- Keeping tall grass and leaf litter cleaned away from your home
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18. How long does a tick need to be attached to transmit disease?
In most cases, a tick must feed for at least 24 hours before it can transmit any disease into its host. Sometimes, it may take up to 36 hours.
So, the longer a tick is attached, the greater the chance is of catching a disease from it.
19. How soon after being bitten by a tick do symptoms appear?
Many different tick-borne illnesses share similar symptoms which can appear anywhere from 3 to 30 days after a tick bite. Signs that you want to particularly look for include:
- Body aches
- Circular or “bull’s eye” rash around the bite area (Lyme and STARI diseases)
- Non-itchy, pink or red spots that spread on forearms, wrists, ankles, and trunk (Rocky Mountain spotted fever)
- Skin ulcer at the bite area, accompanied with swollen lymph nodes (Tularemia)
20. Why do you never crush a tick?
It may be tempting to crush a tick to ensure that it’s dead, (and to satisfyingly wreak out vengeance upon it), but it can actually increase your chances of catching a tick-borne disease.
When you crush a tick, the blood and guts squirt out along with any toxic bacteria. So, try to restrain yourself from doing this.
21. What happens if you don’t get the head of a tick out of a dog?
Don’t panic if the body breaks off from the tick and its mouthparts (what looks like the head) are left stuck inside your dog.
Your dog’s skin will naturally shed it in time. You can apply antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.
If you don’t want to take any chances with your canine best friend, you can try to dig the head (or mouth parts) out with a sterile needle, but you should understand that this can not only distress your dog but could possibly cause secondary bacterial infection as well.
22. How long will a tick stay on a dog?
This can vary according to tick species. Some will only hang around for about three months while others take up residence for years.
Usually, a female tick will fall off a dog after engorging itself so that it can lay its eggs and then die.
A male adult tick may stay on your dog for up to three years, repeating the cycle of engorging and mating.
23. Can a tick kill a dog?
Sadly, the answer is yes, a tick can kill your dog by biting it and transmitting toxic bacteria or parasites into your dog’s bloodstream.
You may have noticed that your dog has had many ticks in the past and nothing bad happened. This is because not all ticks carry diseases, but it only takes one infectious tick to make your dog sick.
Try to keep a close eye on your dog for ticks so that you can remove them before they have time to spread any potential disease.
24. Do ticks lay eggs on dogs?
No, usually a female dog tick will fall off its host and lay her eggs on the ground or in places where your dog often rests.
If your dog stays indoors, this could mean places like upholstered furnishings or baseboards, crevices, and cracks.
For outside dogs, ticks may lay eggs under porches or in crawl spaces. Since ticks can lay thousands of eggs at a time, you may want to consider having a professional treatment done in these areas to prevent tick infestation.
25. How do I kill a tick on my dog?
First of all, you don’t want to kill the tick while it is embedded in your dog because this can cause the tick to release potentially toxic fluids into your dog’s bloodstream.
The best course of actions is to remove the tick with the following steps:
- Spread your dog’s fur away from the tick area.
- Use fine-pointed tweezers (or tick removal hook) to clinch the tick in the area that is closest to the skin.
- Gently, slowly, and steadily pull straight upward until the tick is all the way out.
- Clean the bite area and your tweezers with rubbing alcohol.
- Wash your hands thoroughly.
26. How do you remove a tick from a dog with Vaseline?
You probably should not try that. There are several myths floating around about how to remove a tick from a dog.
Some of these include burning the tick, soaking the tick in alcohol, twisting the tick, removing the tick with a cotton ball, and suffocating the tick with Vaseline.
Some pet owners swear by some of these myths, saying that they work just fine for them.
While this may be true for some, you should be aware that using any of these methods can distress the tick, causing it to vomit up potentially harmful bacteria into your dog’s bloodstream.
Protect Your Family!
We hope this list of tips has helped you learn more about how to protect yourself and your dog against ticks.
Do you have questions that aren't included on this list? If so, let us know in a comment below.
Drew Haines is an animal enthusiast and travel writer. She loves to share her passion through her writing. She graduated high school at sixteen and started her own business, Everywhere Wild Media. And she runs Everywhere Wild and JustBirding. She also guest blogs on Storyteller.Travel
She lived in Ecuador for 6 years and explored the Galapagos Islands. Currently based in N.S., Canada.