How to prevent tick bites and what to do if you find a tick on your dog.
Ticks are blood-sucking arachnids that spread a whole host of diseases - what’s not to like? JUST KIDDING, ticks are the worst. And as dog people, we have to be doubly vigilant because our pups are super susceptible to tick bites and tick-borne diseases.
The list of said diseases includes Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasmosis, and plenty more - all of which can be serious. Many of these can also affect humans, and as you probably know, ticks can hitch a ride on your dog and then end up biting you. So, what do we do about this?
Focus on prevention first.
There are dozens of tick and flea prevention products on the market - talk to your vet to find out which is right for your dog and which dosage you need.
You can also apply shorter-term tick repellents to your dog and their gear before setting off on your adventures - your local pet store should have several options. If you’re looking for a natural solution, lavender essential oil, applied topically, is said to be effective at deterring the little suckers. Though some studies have suggested that there’s truth in this, lavender oil is not a guaranteed protection against ticks.
You also may have heard that adding a bit of apple cider vinegar to your dog’s water will do the trick, but Dr. Stephanie Daverio, a veterinarian with Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital in Pennsylvania, cautions, “There is no scientific basis for claims that apple cider vinegar consumed by a dog will do anything to prevent or treat tick bites.”
Whichever route you take, don’t forget to apply some bug spray to yourself, too. The CDC recommends using “an EPA-registered insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone.” If you find all of that a bit technical, you can use the EPA’s search tool to find products with your preferred ingredients.
Not into DEET and other harsh chemicals? (Can’t say that we blame you.) There are some more natural options for humans, too. Look for products that contain OLE, which is the only plant-based oil included in the EPA’s list above. Ingredients like cedarwood oil, citronella, lemongrass, peppermint, and lavender may also help.
Probably the best way to prevent tick bites is to know where ticks like to hang out - and avoid those spots. Some areas of the U.S. (like the Tri-State Area) are tick hotspots, and we’re not saying you should avoid the entire Tri-State area, but you’ll just want to be smarter about how you and your dog approach the outdoors in areas like this.
Ticks are generally more likely to be found in tall grasses, bushes, and forests, depending on your geographic location. That being said, however, some experts say that around 75 percent of Lyme-disease cases happen as a result of tick bites in people’s own backyards. Icky? Perhaps, but you can make your yard less hospitable to ticks by mowing your lawn regularly and staying on top of leaf litter. Using tick tubes, which are biodegradable tubes stuffed with insecticide-treated cotton, has also been reported to reduce the number of ticks in certain spaces. Ticks are also more active during the summer months.
Next up: Know how to look for ticks on your dog (and you).
If you’ve spent any time outdoors in an area with a high incidence of tick bites, you know all about tick checks. If not, a tick check is just giving yourself and your dog a thorough - and we do mean thorough - once-over after spending time outside.
Ticks can be hard to find on dogs - especially those with ultra-thick coats or long fur - but the key spots to check are their ears, eyelids (ouch!), beneath their collars, between their back legs, those stinky dog armpits, around their tails, and between their toes.
Ticks hide in the wackiest of places on human bodies, too, but it’s helpful to remember that they’re drawn to heat, so think about which parts of your body are the hottest and check there: armpits, in your hair, inside and around your ears, between your legs… no need to make it weird, just make it thorough.
You may have heard that ticks drop from trees. As it turns out, that is a common misconception. Pretty much, they just chill in the grass and bushes, and grab hold of hosts as they brush by. One plus here is that you have a good starting point for your tick checks. And you can use that old pants-in-the-socks trick to help keep ticks off your skin while they embark on the long crawl up your pants legs. (It sounds silly, but it may actually buy you some time before they get a chance to latch on.)
It’s also recommended that you shower and chuck your clothes in the dryer shortly after coming inside.
A note on camping: Obviously, you’re not coming inside at the end of the day while you’re camping so don’t forget to do regular tick checks on your dog and yourself - headlamps are handy here - and reapply whichever tick repellent you’ve chosen when it’s appropriate. (It’s a lot like sunscreen; it doesn’t work indefinitely.)
You’ve found a tick on your dog… now what?
So you found a parasite hitching a ride on your dog. The best thing to do is remove it right away. If it’s not attached, that’s pretty easy: just pick it off and flush it. If it’s embedded, that’s a different story, but you’ve got this! Just use a pair of tweezers or a tick-removal tool to grab the little jerk as close to your dog’s skin as possible. Try not to damage the tick. Gently pull it off, wrap it in a damp paper towel, place it in a plastic bag, and put it in the fridge. Be sure to write the date on the bag.
Side note: Plucking ticks from your pooch is no picnic, but some ticks will feed for up to 10 days if you leave them attached, so don’t bank on it falling off without intervention.
After removing the tick, clean the bite with rubbing alcohol or soap and water, and give your vet a call to see about getting the tick tested. Be sure to keep an eye on the bite, too - watch for changes to the skin and/or signs of infection, like fatigue, fever, muscle and joint pain, decreased appetite, and even nosebleeds. “It can take weeks to months to see symptoms from these infections develop, and they can be intermittent and subtle at the beginning,” Dr. Daverio explains.
As soon as you notice anything suspicious, contact your vet. “Dogs that do not receive treatment until permanent joint or kidney damage has occurred… tend to have long-term health consequences. Some particularly serious cases do not recover,” Dr. Daverio says.
Dr. Daverio lives and works in Pennsylvania, the number-one state for tick-borne disease in the U.S. Her top advice for dog owners when dealing with ticks is to use “effective, proven tick-control products - as directed - for each pet in the home.”
“Ticks are incredibly hardy creatures,” she says. “There are many very good and safe products available. Most of the name-brand products carry a claim against Lyme disease transmission. As yet, no product can kill ticks fast enough to slow the transmission of Anaplasma or Ehrlichia, so checking animals for ticks regularly and promptly removing ticks is an essential part of prevention.”
Now for a dose of optimism:
“With the advent of point-of-care testing for three common (and ever-increasing) tick-transmitted diseases, early diagnosis is achievable,” she says. “Dogs that receive appropriate treatment early in the disease process tend to recover and have few long-term consequences.”
Ticks can dole out a hefty mental burden for those of us who share their space, but knowledge really is power in this case, and with time, these preventative strategies will feel as natural as clipping on your dog’s leash!