Product Review: Tick Key

Because I have Lyme disease, and Gadget had Lyme disease, and almost every dog in my region will be exposed to Lyme disease, I pay a lot of attention to ticks. It is tick season again in New England. In the past week, I had a deer tick female attached to my upper arm (not engorged, thank goodness), Betsy had a deer tick male crawling on her, and I had a deer tick male crawl off Barnum and onto me. We have found no dog ticks, only deer ticks. Ugh.

They are each smaller than a sesame seed. Very small. It’s always frightening to find them, but it’s less frightening to not find them, of course.

This is why I have written several posts on tick checking, including how to tick-check your dog, how to tick-check humans, and a special note about tick-checking for wheelchair-using humans. In these posts I have discussed the pros and cons of removing ticks with fingers, tweezers, and special tick-removal tools. For a while, the only one I knew of was the Tick Tool Pro, a tick spoon.

Very thin, lightweight metal tool, about half the length of a popsicle stick, tapered on one end with a V-shaped opening. The length of the tool has a slight creased in the center, so that it is mildly concave. It's attached by a metal-bead key-chain to a plastic magnifying class about teh size of a penny or nickel.

This is the tick spoon we have, the Tick Tool Pro. I find the magnifying lens just gets in the way, so I remove it to use the spoon.

Overall, I have been satisfied with this implement. It is much easier and more effective to use than tweezers when it comes to removing an adult-sized deer tick or a dog tick. This is what I used to pull the tick out of my upper arm a week ago. Any deer tick is still damn small, so I was nervous; however, unlike Barnum, I am not covered with thick fur, and I definitely hold still!

When dealing with deer tick nymphs or slightly engorged deer ticks, however, the slot is too large, and with Gadget and Barnum I sometimes end up mangling the tick or leaving the head in, etc. However, even fine-tipped tweezers are worse in terms of squishing and difficulty with handling a very small (especially somewhat engorged) tick.

Thus, I was hopeful that the Tick Key, which my dear friend Karyn sent me, would work better. It does not have an opening for the tick to slide through, so I thought it might work better on nymphs. However, it’s quite big, and I was worried it would be awkward.

Flat, metallic green object that has the shape and look of a key, except where the part that would stick in a lock would go is a key-hole shaped opening, round at the base closest to where you hold the key, with a very narrow neck at the tip.

The Tick Key. Mine looks just like this, but purple. It’s actually larger than a typical key.

Last night, I got to test it out, and I’m sorry to say it was a failure. Barnum had a slightly engorged deer tick nymph on his snout — on the bridge of his nose, between his eyes. Not a fun place to try to remove a tiny tick, likely full of pathogenic microbes, with a big, purple piece of metal. Of course, Barnum’s snout is also the hairiest part of him, because even though he’s had a recent haircut, we don’t trim his face quite so dramatically as the rest of him, or he’d look ridiculous. It would also be difficult to do. So, we were working around a fair amount of hair. Also, Betsy wasn’t here, so I had someone else helping me, and Betsy normally has a very soothing effect on Barnum. Removing ticks isn’t normally a big deal for him, but pulling one off right in front of his eyes while mutchering his snout and trying to maneuver a big, new piece of equipment — he was not as compliant as I’d have liked.

But, the real problem was this: We put the key’s hole over the tick, and we sliiiiid the opening to the narrow end, and it just slid right over the tick. It failed to catch the tick in the narrow gap intended for this purpose. We tried two or three times — with Barnum increasingly losing his patience — before I gave up and pulled the tick off with my fingers. The good news was that I got the whole thing out intact. The bad news was that it looked flatter after removal, which probably means I squeezed its parasitic gut contents right into Barnum’s open skin. Not really your best-case scenario.

So, between the two implements, I prefer the tick spoon. If you are dealing with a decent-sized tick (a dog tick, for example), either one is preferable to tweezers or fingers. Also, perhaps if we’d been working on an area of his body that wasn’t so difficult — where we were mucking about right in front of his eyes — it would have gone better. I don’t know. But for a squishy deer-tick nymph, so far, I have yet to find a solution that is reliable. If you discover a tick-removal device other than these two items, or you have a great pair of tick-removing tweezers or forceps to recommend, please drop me a line, and I will test it out!

Update: Much better than either the tick key or the tick spoon, are the tick removal forceps, which can remove any size or type of tick without squeezing out the gut contents. Tick forceps review is here.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, hopefully tick-free SDiT

9 Responses to “Product Review: Tick Key”

  1. 1 Courtenay October 18, 2011 at 12:54 am
    The Ticked Off tick spoon is what I’ve seen vets around here recommend. I just use my fingernails or hemostats.

  2. 2 Sharon Wachsler October 21, 2011 at 2:19 am

    Courtenay, thank you! I have ordered those forceps. They look great. I will review them after they arrive (and I have a tick to remove).

    By the way, here’s a follow-up comparing the Tick Key to the Tick Tool Pro: Tonight I found a slightly engorged deer tick nymph, this time on Barnum’s forehead, above his eyebrow. I used the Tick Tool Pro tick spoon, and I DID manage to remove the tick, whole, no squeezing or leaving the mouth parts behind, on the first attempt. Of course, I’ve gotten quite experienced with that tool by now, but it is definitely superior to the Tick Key when it comes to tiny ticks. It doesn’t always work, but this time it did. Yay!

    I use my fingernails when they are a decent length, but often they are very short, and in that case, I end up squeezing the tick, which is a problem when you’re dealing with an engorged soft-shelled tick, like a deer tick. Not a problem with a flat dog tick.

  3. 3 Karyn and Thane February 9, 2012 at 3:27 am

    I was sorry to see the tick key was a failure but glad to know so I don’t rely upon it. I ordered the tick forceps. It looks like he is closing down and only has what is left to sell so if you want them, best order right away. I hope they work out for me- I figure between the two options, I’ll at least have something workable. Ticks are not rampant here but after Thane’s Lyme journey, I don’t want to live with the belief that we will never see another as that probably wont be the case

  4. 4 Karyn February 18, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    How do the tick forceps work to remove a tick? I got a set cuz I saw he’s closing up shop and sure would like to know how to approach a tick with them. I think I might try and get the one your using Sharon also but sure would like to know how to use these forceps

  5. 5 Sharon Wachsler February 18, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    The forceps are what I use. Ever since I tried them once, I have never used anything else!

    I know this is not useful for you, Karyn, but for sighted readers reading this comment, there are pictures of them on his site showing how to use them.

    Karyn, do you have them yet? I’m having trouble thinking of how to describe them. I think if you already know what they look and feel like, it will be easier to explain, and you could practice picking up a sesame or poppy seed to get the knack of it. They’re sort of like a bit like using chop sticks and a bit like using tweezers. You slide the rounded bottom along the skin until you have just the very ends of them, which are very small and narrow, at the base of the tick where it attaches to the dog, and then you close them and just pull slowly and steadily up. They’re terrific for little ticks that are impossible with other methods.

  6. 6 Karyn March 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Thankyou for the description on how to use them Sharon. I got them right away- was surprised at how quickly they came. I just have no experience with ticks- OK no experience with tick removal so sorta needed to understand how they work. You helped me there so thankyou very much! Now to remember where I put them LOL

  7. 7 O'fieldstream May 22, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Sharon .. you mention a ‘tick forceps’ .. but you don’t mention a product name. Doing a Google search brings up a number of hardly believable – and even less – tools. If you would be so kind… please reply here (for others) and to my email address (link) as I too, write about outdoor activities and would like to pass along helpful information on tick removal. Thank you, O’fieldstream

  8. 8 Sharon Wachsler May 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Yes, thank you for the reminder. I meant to do a post/product review about them because they are AWESOME, but I didn’t get around to it. The link to buy them used to be in Courtenay’s comment, above. However, I’m guessing they sold out (the seller did say he only had a few left) because that link no longer works. I did email them to ask, though.
    Since you asked, I googled “tick forceps,” and like you say, many are not what I was referring to. Fortunately, though, the top link is EXACTLY what I was referring to and they are being sold on eBay. BUY THEM. I am seriously thinking of finding someone who makes medical equipment and asking them to make more and selling them myself, because they are worlds better than any other tick-removal product I’ve found. Here’s the link:

  9. 9 Tim May 23, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Used Tick Key about a couple of dozen times in the past two years to remove deer ticks from my dog. It has always worked wonderfully for me.

    In one instance I felt the tell-tale sting of a tick burrowing into the side of MY abdomen about half-way between my ribs and waist line on my right side.

    It was an awkward position and I had to use the tick key with my left hand. Since the tick had just burrowed in, it was tiny and I must have tried about a dozen times before I was able to get the critter wedged into the slot of the Tick Key and remove the tick.

    If I hadn’t had been handicapped by using my off-hand in a twisted-up manner, it may have gone easier.

    Anyway, love the tick key, but at $5 it seems about double the price it should be.

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