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Ticks – ugh!

They’re creepy and they can carry disease.

Experts warn us each year that it’ll be an especially bad year for ticks. They also share the reminder that the disease incidence is becoming endemic in new areas.

If your dog plays in wooded areas, once in a while he’ll probably pick up a tick or two. Yes, even if you use prevention. No matter what you use for prevention … even the toxic, carcinogenic pharmaceutical products aren’t 100% tick proof.

The good news is that most tick-borne diseases aren’t transmitted immediately. So, if you get ticks off your dog within 24 to 36 hours of a tick bite, he’s unlikely to get infected.

But that means it’s really important to check your dog for ticks and remove them quickly.

But before we talk about the do’s and don’ts of tick removal, let’s look at the tick diseases your dog might be exposed to.

Tick Diseases In Dogs

Are ticks common where you live?

Here’s how to find out …

  • The most common diseases ticks can pass on to dogs
  • Which ticks carry those diseases
  • Geographic areas where these ticks live
Two Deer Ticks ticks responsible for transmitting Lyme disease
Two Lone Star ticks responsible for causing Erlichiosis
Two Black legged ticks responsible for causing Anaplasmosis
American dog, Rocky Mountain, and Brown dog ticks responsible for causing Rocky Mountain Spotted fever (RMSF)
Two Black legged ticks responsible for causing babesiosis

This is an emerging disease that’s quite rare but worth mentioning because it’s not spread by a tick bite, but by dogs eating infected ticks …

American canine hepatozoonosis (ACH)

(Hepatozoon canis, Hepatozoon americanum)

  • This can happen when a dog removes ticks off his own body, or if he eats prey that has ticks.
  • It can be a highly debilitating disease. So it’s especially important to remove ticks from your dog before he does it himself!
  • ACH exists in the south-central and southeastern US

Is There Tick Disease Where You Live?

To check the incidence of tick disease near you, go to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC). They have nice interactive maps for the US and Canada on their website.

These maps show the prevalence for Lyme disease, erlichiosis and anaplasmosis for 2019 … You can also find maps for Canada.

US prevalence map for Lyme Disease
US prevalence map for Anaplasmosis

As you view this data, keep in mind that the big pharmaceutical companies sponsor this CAPC website. You know, the companies who make money when you buy their tick products!

Removing Ticks From Your Dog

The first rule is to get ticks off your dog quickly. 

So let’s take a look at some DOs and DON’Ts to keep in mind.

DOs

DO … remove ticks within 24 to 36 hours of a bite.

If your dog’s out every day in areas with ticks, then you need to check him every day. Otherwise, check him when he’s been in the woods or any tick-infested area.

TIP: Some dogs may “show” you where they have a tick. Watch your dog to see if he’s scratching or biting at himself repeatedly in one place.

DO … check him thoroughly all over.

Ticks especially like to hang out in places like …

  • His groin
  • Between his toes
  • In or around his ears
  • Around the anal area
  • His tail and eyelids

TIP: If you have a long-haired or double-coated dog, use a dog hair dryer to blow his coat around. The hairs will part so you can see his skin and spot any ticks lurking there. You can also use your own hairdryer on a very cool setting so you don’t burn your dog.

If You Find A Tick On Your Dog

Ticks attached onto a dog's skin

DO … use tweezers:

  • Part your dog’s hair around the tick with your fingers.
  • Place the tweezers around the tick, as close as you can get to the skin.
  • Don’t twist or jerk the tick.
  • Pull gently upwards with steady hands. Add pressure until the tick lets you pull it away from the skin.
  • Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, iodine, or soap and water.
  • Dispose of the tick by killing it in alcohol … or flush it down the toilet.
  • If you’re concerned about tick disease, save the tick in alcohol for testing.

Or…

DO … use a tick removal gadget.

There are several on the market. I like the Tick Key and I keep one in a few rooms of my house so it’s close at hand when I find a tick on my dog. You can also keep it on your key ring.

Keychain tick remover
  • Place the large opening of the Tick Key over the tick as close to the skin as you can
  • Slide the Tick Key until the tick is in the narrow slot at the end
  • Keep sliding the tick key in the same direction, along the skin
  • The tick will come out including the head and mouth parts in all
  • Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, iodine or soap, and water
  • You can kill the tick by putting it in alcohol, or wrap it in tape and flush it down the toilet
  • If you’re concerned your dog may have contracted tick disease, save the tick in alcohol for testing

DON’Ts

  • DON’Tremove ticks with your fingers (though I must admit I do sometimes). If you do this too, use a tissue or paper towel. Disinfect your hands afterward with soap and water. You don’t really want tick saliva or blood on your fingers. And don’t forget to clean the bite area on your dog.
  • DON’Tsquish or crush a tick. This can force infected body fluids through the tick’s mouth. It increases the risk of infection for you and your dog.
  • DON’Tworry if the mouthpart of the tick stays in your dog’s skin. It can happen sometimes when they’re really well embedded. It’s a bit like having a splinter and it will fall out in a few days.
  • DON’Tput things like nail polish, vaseline or repellents on the tick to try to suffocate or kill it. This can cause the tick to vomit into your dog, increasing the possibility of infection.
  • DON’T  … burn the tick with a lighted cigarette or hot match. These can also cause vomiting.
  • DON’Tthrow the tick in your trashcan or sink. They can easily crawl back out.

How Long Can Ticks Survive Without A Host?

I’ve often wondered about this because I’ve sometimes dropped a tick after removing it … so I looked it up.

Now I’ll be a lot less worried that there’s a tick wandering around my house looking for someone to bite.

This is what I found out about deer ticks and most other hard ticks – the ones that usually carry disease.

  • They can dry out and die very quickly if humidity is less than 90%.
  • Most won’t survive 24 hours and will often die within 8 hours.
  • On moist clothing in a laundry hamper they might survive 2 or 3 days, or longer if they’ve recently had a blood meal.

But what if you bring ticks home on your clothes?

Well, here’s what a study by the University of Vermont found. Putting your clothes in the dryer for 5 minutes on high heat will kill ticks.

If you wash your clothes first, the water temperature needs to be above 115°F to kill them.

If a tick survives the wash cycle, put the clothes in the dryer. Dry for 70 minutes on low heat or 50 minutes on high heat.

This study used Blacklegged (deer) ticks … so other ticks may respond differently.

Of course, keeping ticks off your dog in the first place is the best strategy. But it’s always worthwhile taking the time to check him regularly for ticks.

If you remove them promptly, the likelihood of your dog getting a tick-borne disease is very low.

Now, before I go …

Here are some quick tips to help keep the ticks off your dog in the first place:

Keeping Ticks Off Your Dog

There are many chemical tick preventives that can harm your dog.

These include spot-ons and sprays or collars that repel insects. They include brands your vet may prescribe like …

  • Frontline
  • Advantix
  • Advantage
  • Seresto  

These pesticides are toxic and can all cause risky side effects in your dog.

There are also some new oral flea and tick preventives. You give them monthly or every three months. The brand names are  Nexgard, Bravecto, and Simparica.

You might think it sounds very convenient to just give your dog a tasty chew every month or so … but they’re very risky.

These drugs circulate in your dog’s bloodstream. Once in the blood, they work by attacking the nervous system of the insect to kill it.

This means they can also be dangerous for your dog.

The side effects include …

  • vomiting
  • lethargy
  • diarrhea
  • seizures

Once these drugs are in your dog’s bloodstream, they’ll be there for several weeks or even months.

So if your dog has an adverse reaction, you can’t get it out of his system!

It’s much safer to avoid these side effects by using organic and natural tick repellents.

[Related: Bravecto, Nexgard, And Simparica: Are These Oral Flea And Tick Preventives Safe?]

3 Natural Solutions

1. Stopping Ticks With Food

  • Garlic – Garlic helps repel fleas and ticks as the odor comes through your dog’s skin. Don’t think garlic is toxic to your dog! It’s a healthy addition to your dog’s diet. The key is to feed the right dose – about 1/3 tsp of fresh chopped garlic per 10 lbs of your dog’s body weight.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar – Give your dog 1/2 tsp per day per 25 lbs of body weight.  Add it to your dog’s food or water bowl. The apple cider vinegar adds acidity to your dog’s blood. This makes him less appealing to ticks – and fleas too!

[Related: Garlic For Dogs: Poison Or Medicine?]

2. Topical Tick Preventives

Herbal Flea And Tick Powder

There are many herbal flea and tick powders and sprays on the market. Most contain herbal combinations to prevent ticks. Or, you can learn how to make your own tick powder. 

Herbal Flea And Tick Collars

You can make your own herbal flea and tick collar by …

  • Mixing 2 Tbsp of almond oil with 2 drops of rose geranium essential oil or palo santo essential oil.
  • Dab a few drops on your dog’s collar or a bandana.
  • Remove the collar or bandana when your dog comes indoors.
  • Reapply the essential oil to the collar or bandana weekly.

There are also several herbal or essential oil tick collars you can buy.  

Avoid any products containing essential oils of wintergreen, pennyroyal, and clove. These oils are dangerous for your dog and should not be used for any reason.

Tick Shampoo

Make your own tick shampoo …

  • Mix several drops of palo santo essential oil with your favorite organic lavender shampoo.
  • Let the suds sit on your dog for 20 minutes, then rinse.

This will kill any existing ticks … and help repel new ones.

Citrus Repellent

Make your own citrus repellent …

  • Cut a lemon into quarters and put them into a pint jar.
  • Cover with boiling water. Let it steep overnight.
  • In the morning, pour the liquid into a spray bottle.
  • Mist your dog (be careful around his eyes and nose).

TIP: For best results, pay special attention to these areas

  • behind his ears
  • around his head
  • the base of his tail
  • his armpits

Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

DE is a fine white powder. It’s the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic creatures called diatoms.

  • Buy food grade diatomaceous earth.
  • Sprinkle a small amount on your dog, starting at the tail.
  • Hold back the coat so you get the powder on his skin.
  • The powder will pierce the protective structures of ticks.
  • They will dehydrate and die.

It’s safe for your dog but can be drying to his skin. So don’t over-use it, and be careful not to get it in his eyes, nose or mouth.

3. For Your Yard

If ticks live in your yard, you can take steps to get rid of them.

Nematodes

Nematodes feed on tick larvae. This breaks their life cycle and kills off the parasite. The beneficial nematodes are microscopic, worm-like organisms that live in soil.  They eat many kinds of garden pests as well as fleas and ticks.

You can buy them online at places like Arbico Organics or Amazon. They come ready to use. Add water as directed on the package. Spray them throughout your yard using a hose sprayer or a watering can.

Diatomaceous Earth

Use food-grade DE and sprinkle it around your yard.  The powder is lethal to ticks and fleas but safe for pets and humans. And it won’t hurt beneficial earthworms either. It also contains minerals that are good for your garden.

Ticks Happen!

Let your dog be a dog and don’t worry! There are many ways to protect your dog from ticks.

Ticks don’t always have to be scary! Remember to check your dog for ticks.

Oh … and don’t forget to check yourself as well!