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Prevent & kill ticks

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

A TICK is about the last thing you want to find attached to your dog. These tenacious little arachnids (they belong to the spider family) insert their head under your dog's skin and gorge themselves on his blood. Gross!

The worst thing about ticks is the health problems they can cause. The neurotoxins in their saliva can cause allergic skin reactions, while some dogs actually suffer temporary paralysis. Certain ticks in certain areas of the country carry Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, or Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

With ticks, the best offense is a good defense.

In other words.... try to avoid them.

How to avoid ticks

You can avoid most ticks by learning how and where they find you and your dog. They can't jump or fly, so they climb  onto tall grass or weeds, or onto a fence. From these advantageous ambush positions, seldom more than three feet above the ground, they cling, waiting.

When they detect a living creature nearby (they can smell the carbon dioxide we exhale, and also sense body odor, body heat, and vibrations), the tick stretches out its front legs in an attempt to snag or attach itself to the potential host.

So, to avoid ticks when walking your dog:

Keep him away from overgrown fields, fences in fields, brushy areas, and the edges of woods. That's prime tick country. Don't go off the beaten trail. Walk in the center of mowed trails and keep your dog on-leash and close beside you. Most importantly, don't let him brush up against vegetation.

Obviously if you take your dog for an off-leash run through the woods, you can't very well stop him from brushing up against vegetation! So he's very likely to pick up ticks, which you'll need to deal with as soon as possible. But those are fun outings, that's for sure!

By the way, ticks can be active anytime the ground temperature is above 45 degrees Fahrenheit, but they're most active when it's warm and humid.

Ticks in your own yard

If you have ticks on your own property, the same habitat issues apply as when you have fleas. You need to make the yard inhospitable to ticks, or use some sort of pesticide, or both.

  • Keep grass mowed, bag the clippings and leaf litter, cut weeds very short. Ticks avoid direct sunlight and will not infest areas that are open, sunny, and well-groomed.
  • Remove wood piles and debris that offer hiding places for wildlife that carry ticks: mice, chipmunks, stray cats, etc.
  • Place a 3-foot wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between your lawn and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into recreational areas.
  • Treat your yard with diatomaceous earth. I talked about this powder in the flea section. Some owners have also used Cedarcide sprays with good results.

Find ticks quickly.

The faster you can get them off your dog, the less time they will have to transmit diseases.

An infected tick must attach to your dog's skin for 24 to 36 hours before disease-causing microorganisms have enough time to wiggle down to the tick's salivary glands and get injected into your dog's bloodstream.

So if you check your dog before a hike and find no ticks, then check him after the hike and find ticks, those ticks have NOT had time to inject any diseases.

Unfortunately, finding ticks quickly can be easier said than done!

  • The larger species (like brown dog ticks) are fairly easy to see, especially when they're attached to the skin and engorged with blood.
  • But the tinier species (like deer ticks) can be a real challenge – depending on their stage of maturity, they can be as tiny as the head of a pin, and these tiny ones that cause the worst diseases.

So don't just rely on your eyes, especially on dark-colored dogs or longhaired dogs. Run your fingers (and a flea comb) through the coat, feeling for the tiniest bump.

Remove ticks properly.

You can use your fingers, but tweezers are better. However, the BEST tool to use is the Pro-Tick Remedy  tick remover, available from Amazon. It's excellent.

Basically, you grasp the tick at the base of its head, as close as possible to the dog's skin. Don't squeeze the tick's body or it will squirt more of its disease-causing bacteria into your dog!

Pull very slowly and in a straight line, trying to "back" the tick OUT the same way it went IN. You want the tick to simply let go and come out intact, leaving an empty hole in your dog's skin. Dab on a bit of 3% hydrogen peroxide.

If you tug too quickly, or if you pull sideways or with a circular motion, the tick's head will break off and remain embedded in the skin. (This is where the Pro-Tick Remedy tool really shines – it usually gets the tick off the dog without breaking off the head.)

Breaking off the head is not a disaster, but it can cause further irritation. Just keep an eye on it as it heals.

× DON'T TRY TO REMOVE A TICK by burning it with a match. A dying tick may release its toxins into your dog's skin.

× DON'T TRY TO REMOVE A TICK by "smothering" it with Vaseline, oil, or nail polish. A tick can live for hours covered in these substances, while it continues gorging itself and transmitting its diseases.

Dispose of ticks properly.

Drop the tick into a cup of rubbing alcohol and leave it there overnight. Only when it's dead should you flush it down the toilet. If the tick may have been on your dog for more than 24 hours, preserve it in the alcohol until you identify it.

In the US, the vast majority of diseases are caused by the black-legged or deer tick, the American dog tick, the brown dog tick, the wood tick, and the Lone Star tick.

The most common diseases transmitted to dogs by ticks are Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, anaplasmosis,and ehrlichiosis.

Should you give your dog tick-killing drugs?

In the section on fleas, we talked about flea preventatives that you apply topically to your dog or give as a chewable tablet. Those drugs are also effective (more or less) against ticks.

The problem is that the manufacturers want you to give them on an ongoing basis (usually once a month). Whereas I use Frontline Plus only on an occasional, as-needed basis.

I'm not in favor of putting my dog on a regular regimen of these drugs unless I lived in a tick-infested neighborhood where tick diseases are common and none of the other tick control methods in this article have worked.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

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