The weather’s warming up and those of us with dogs will have noticed them getting their fill of all those new spring smells by walking nose to the ground the past few weeks. The joy of spring comes not only with the promise of more outdoor fun but also with an increased risk of tick bites for your dog and, therefore, a risk of Lyme disease in areas where ticks are infected with Borrelia.
Keeping your dog tick-free can be a challenge, particularly if their favorite things to do include galloping through undergrowth and rolling in long grass. So, what are your options to keep ticks away from your dog?
Tick and Flea Control for Dogs
Conventional approaches to keeping ticks, fleas and mosquitoes away from your dog include spot-on treatments applied once a month (usually) to the fur between your dog’s shoulders. The treatment is then spread through skin oils and so it is important not to bathe your dog or take them swimming too soon after such preventative tick and flea treatments. Dogs with dry skin are less likely to see a benefit from these kinds of treatments so it’s important to talk to your veterinarian to determine how to help restore proper skin moisture balance and to effectively reduce the risk of tick bites in the meantime.
Conventional Tick-Control Methods
Frontline and Advantage are popular pest-control treatments for dogs but these can prove toxic to some animals, especially if a dog frequently licks themselves and ingests a large amount of the treatment. Flea and tick control collars may be a better option for such dogs but be sure to monitor for any signs of skin irritation around the collar and remove it straight away if this occurs. Some dog guardians have taken to using amber stone necklaces based on the idea that the resin gives off a certain set of chemicals that repel ticks. There is no evidence to support their use, as yet, but the collars are unlikely to prove harmful and so may be a good option as part of a general tick-control strategy. There is also no evidence supporting the use of electromagnetic collars or tags for tick control and using these alone may put your dog at risk of infectious disease avoidable by using other methods of tick-prevention.
How Effective are Tick-Repellents for Dogs?
A study carried out in Italy a few years ago looked at the comparative efficacy of available tick-control treatments and found that the combination of imidacloprid 10% and permethrin 50% was more effective than fipronil 10% and methoprene 12%. However, there are increasing numbers of reports of of adverse reactions to these chemicals, including a significant rise in deaths of dogs in the past few years. This has prompted the US Food and Drug Administration to issue a warning about using Frontline and other such tick-repellents. Dog guardians must weigh up the potential for toxicity from such products against the potential for infection with bacteria like Borrelia, Babesiosis and/or Ehrlichiosis. According to a recent study in Germany these kinds of sprays and other tick prophylaxis are used incorrectly by most dog guardians so be sure to read the instructions apply as recommended to improve the likelihood of keeping your dog tick-free.
Natural Tick Repellents
Those worried about applying chemicals to their dogs’ skin every month may, then, wish to consider alternative tick and flea control methods such as garlic supplementation and essential oils. Garlic is toxic to dogs in high doses but is often included in home cooked diets for dogs as it can have significant health benefits at a low dose. Talk to your vet before starting your dog on any garlic supplement and be sure to let them know that they are getting garlic so as to be on the lookout for any adverse effects. Tea tree oil shampoo may help repel ticks but it can be quite drying to dogs’ skin and is toxic when ingested so needs to be used carefully and under veterinary guidance. The same goes for cedar wood oil, lemongrass and many other components of ‘natural’ tick repellents for dogs, many of which have little or no evidence supporting their use.
Keeping Ticks at Bay Naturally
Another natural tick-repellent is Vet’s Best Natural Flea and Tick Home Spray which contains peppermint oil and clove extract (eugenol) along with sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium benzoate. This spray is to be applied all over the dog’s fur and massaged into the skin. It is not advisable to use for cats due to the essential oils in the spray but there are many satisfied customers using it to help keep their dogs tick-free. Talking to your vet before using any of these products and then keeping a close eye on your dog(s) after beginning to use alternative tick control methods is vital in the battle for good canine health.
Preventing Tick Bites in Dogs
Dogs are more likely than us humans to pick up critters like ticks when out and about, largely because there is more of them closer to the ground and because they get into more tick-inhabited spaces than we do. In Lyme-endemic areas it is wise to avoid letting your dog wander through long grasses in shady areas and to stay alert to local public health warnings that highlight tick-infested areas. Make sure to clear leaf piles and avoid your dog getting into woodpiles where ticks may be hanging out having been carried there by mice. Other steps to take to reduce the likelihood of ticks on your property include keeping the grass short, using gravel or paved paths as tick barriers in front of the house and avoiding having deer-accessible fruits and vegetables that can attract animals carrying the zoonosis.
Picking Ticks off Dogs
If we rolled around in the grass and had our bellies to the ground as much as our dogs do then we’d be doing tick checks every day so make sure to do this with your dog and dramatically reduce the risk of them getting Lyme disease. Ticks have to be in place for around 24 hours before the bacteria move from a tick’s gut to their saliva and into the animal (human or otherwise) who is being bitten by that tick. Pick them off earlier and the Lyme disease bacteria will be a lot less likely to have spread to cause infection.
Tick Checks for Dogs
In order to carry out effective tick checks it can help to brush and bathe your dog regularly and get them used to being handled. Ticks tend to like nooks and crannies in which they can hide and feed undetected so make sure your dog will let you check between the pads of their toes, in and behind their ears and at their elbows and groin as these are some of the most likely spots to find ticks on a dog. If you do find one then don’t stop there as there can easily be more. It helps to start handling practices with your dog well in advance of tick season so that they consider it a normal part of the routine. You can even perform ‘sham’ trials of removing a tick from your dog so they are not anxious when you whip out the tweezers and ask them to hold still.
Removing a Tick
Flea combs may be great for fleas but using one of these to look for ticks may result in inadvertently pulling a tick off your dog but leaving the head behind to spread bacteria. Go carefully when using such a comb. If you find a tick then use tweezers to carefully remove it (grasp it as close to the skin as possible, pull firmly up and out and don’t twist or jerk the tweezers). Have a little antiseptic cream on hand to disinfect the area afterwards. Give your dog a treat for being so good at holding still while you pulled out the tick.
Keeping Your House Tick-Free
To reduce the risk of ticks biting you, your dog or other family member make sure to keep your house as inhospitable to bugs as possible. Wash your dog’s bed frequently, vacuum carpets at least once a week and check all household members for ticks and fleas regardless of whether or not they venture outside. A tick brought in on a dog or cat may fall off and find a new host. The same tick may infect more than one person, cat or dog with Lyme disease or other illness so keeping your dog tick-free is also helpful in lowering the risk for all other family members.
Beck S, Schein E, Baldermann C, von Samson-Himmelstjerna G, Kohn B., Tick infestation and tick prophylaxis in dogs in the area of Berlin/Brandenburg–results of a questionnaire study, Berl Munch Tierarztl Wochenschr. 2013 Jan-Feb;126(1-2):69-76.
Otranto D, Lia RP, Cantacessi C, Galli G, Paradies P, Mallia E, Capelli G., Efficacy of a combination of imidacloprid 10%/permethrin 50% versus fipronil 10%/(S)-methoprene 12%, against ticks in naturally infected dogs, Vet Parasitol. 2005 Jun 30;130(3-4):293-304.