Ticks are not only gross, but potentially dangerous for you and your dog. Ticks can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Canine ehrlichiosis, Canine babesiosis, Canine hepatozoonosis, Anaplasmosis (Deer Ticks), and Lyme disease. Compared to other areas of the country, Minnesota has a relatively high incidence of Lyme disease, coming in twelfth overall in 2008 (incidence in humans). In fact, in parts of Minnesota Lyme disease is considered “endemic.” Lyme disease threatens both humans and dogs (to a lesser degree cats). The disease is transmitted by black legged ticks and deer ticks (tick identification resource).
Preventing Tick-borne Diseases
The simplest thing you can do to prevent a tick-borne disease is to perform a thorough examination of yourself and your dog after spending time in potentially tick-infested areas (e.g., wooded areas, tall grasses, dense underbrush, and dog parks). Carefully remove any ticks you find (without ripping off the head if the tick is partially embedded). Ticks work their way towards warm, moist areas of the body including towards the head, in the ears, and between toes so make sure to closely check these areas. When removing and disposing of the tick, do not pop it or otherwise expose yourself to its blood, rather submerge it in a container of rubbing alcohol to destroy it and carefully dispose of the sealed container. It usually takes several hours being attached before a tick can transmit a disease. If you suspect your dog has hosted a tick for more than a couple of hours, remove the tick and destroy it but keep it in the event your vet wishes to examine it. Then contact your veterinarian for their treatment recommendation. If your dog displays excessive ear scratching or head shaking following a trip to a tick infested area, he may have a tick in his ear canal. If you suspect this, contact your veterinarian to have the tick removed—don’t attempt to remove a tick from inside your dog’s ear on your own.
For a heavy infestation (so many ticks you cannot remove them all by hand), you will need to rely on a dip or shampoo to ensure all ticks are destroyed. Again, it’s best to contact your veterinarian in the case of a severe infestation to find out their recommended course of treatment. Also be sure to examine and wash all bedding.
How do I know if my dog should be treated with a chemical tick preventative?
This is a personal decision that every pet owner must make after doing some research and consulting their veterinarian. Veterinarians’ opinions vary widely—some recommend it as a standard protocol, and others only recommend it if the pet’s lifestyle and environment truly require it. It’s important to weigh the risks of on-going chemical exposure and the chance that your pet may become infected with a tick-borne disease. Some factors to consider:
- Do you frequent a dog park? It might be a good idea to use a preventative if your dog has regular exposure to unknown dogs and in an environment where it’s more likely that ticks may be present (e.g., in the dog park).
- Does your dog spend a large amount of time outdoors in wooded areas and tall grass? If your dog goes out for regular potty breaks and brief play time in a manicured lawn, prevention may be overkill. However, if your dog spends a large amount of time outdoors in un-groomed areas, (such as working SAR or hunting dogs in the field) his exposure risk is increased.
- Remember, not all ticks are disease carriers. However, if you live in one of the endemic areas for tick borne diseasesyou may want to err on the side of caution and use a preventative since your dog’s risk of coming in contact with a disease-carrying tick is higher.
If you wish to use a chemical preventative, consider using a combination flea and tick product that uses as safe a chemical as possible. Revolution is a topical treatment that contains the chemical “Selamectin,” a relatively new insecticide. Early evidence suggests that Selamectin has very low toxicity in mammals and other chemically similar compounds have not been found to be carcinogenic. Residue is transferrable to humans, but is likely to be nontoxic. For more information on specific products or to find a safer product, check out the Flea and Tick Product Directory
Are there any natural tick preventatives available?
Some of the same preventatives that work for fleas also work for ticks. These include dietary additives such as:
- Brewer’s Yeast (tablet and powder form): The typical recommendation is 1 tablet for every 10 pounds of weight, added to food or as treats. The yeast makes the dog’s blood acidic and repels both ticks and fleas.
- Garlic: This also makes the dog less appealing to ticks (as well as fleas), by excreting a smell through the skin. Garlic contains sulfoxides and disulfides, which can damage red blood cells and cause anemia in dogs so it should be used sparingly. Below are the recommended amounts:
- 0 to 15 pounds – half a clove
- 20 to 40 pounds – 1 clove
- 45 to 70 pounds – 2 cloves
- 75 to 90 pounds – 2 and a half cloves
- 100 pounds and over – 3 cloves
Note: Onions are toxic to dogs, do not feed onions to your dog, and do not use garlic or onion with cats.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: This adds acidity to your dog’s blood, making it less appealing to ticks (and fleas). Add 2 tablespoons of the apple cider vinegar to the dog’s water bowl as a preventative.
Environmental treatment such as:
- Predatory Nematodes: These are a microscopic worm-like organism that live in soil and feed on tick larvae as they are developing. They are a natural and non-toxic option commonly available at garden supply stores.
- Food grade diatomaceous earth: A non-toxic powder consisting of ground fossils, marine life and fresh water organisms, it works by puncturing the exoskeleton and sucking the moisture out of the tick. This can be sprinkled inside or out. However, you must exercise caution when applying this product so that neither you nor your dog inhales it. If mixing with food, ensure it’s thoroughly moistened. If applying outdoors, do so at night and/or follow up with a misting of water. If particles are inhaled, they can be extremely damaging to lungs.
- Remove underbrush and tall grass from your property.
Topical applications such as:
- Homemade citrus repellent: Made by placing a quartered lemon in a jar and covering with boiling water. Let steep overnight and pour into spray bottle. Spray all over the dog, especially behind ears, around the head, at the base of the tail and in the arm pits.
- Essential oils: A few drops applied directly to your dog’s skin or mixed with water as a flora spray–Apply oil along his spine and at his neck (make sure your dog isn’t allergic first), or spray him all over with the flora spray. A combination of Peppermint and Purification blend works great.
What’s the deal with Lyme disease vaccinations?
There are multiple Lyme disease vaccinations available for dogs and even though they have been around for many years, their safety and efficacy is still unknown. In fact, vet clinics even in endemic areas rarely give the vaccine. Because treatment of Lyme disease in dogs is relatively straightforward and disease symptoms are typically mild, it may not be advisable to vaccinate. This is definitely an issue that is best discussed with your veterinarian.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Human and canine symptoms are quite different, with the canine reaction to the disease typically being much milder. In fact, dogs in endemic areas (including parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin) may test positive for Lyme disease and show no outward symptoms. Symptoms in animals don’t typically develop until two to five months after exposure and treatment with antibiotics is usually successful.
Symptoms in dogs include:
- Generalized pain
- Loss of appetite
If left untreated, symptoms may initially disappear but reappear weeks or months later. Long term infection without treatment may result in kidney damage. It should be noted that many of the symptoms of Lyme Disease are similar to the symptoms of Anaplasmosis, a bacterial infection carried by deer ticks. Read more about Anaplasmosis here. Symptoms of Lyme Disease in humans usually develop soon after exposure and begin with the rash and flu-like symptoms.
- Expanding rash at the site of the bite
- Chills and fatigue
- Intermittent arthritis
If Lyme disease goes untreated long enough, humans can develop joint swelling, nervous system problems and sometimes heart problems.
For more information about tick-borne diseases and Lyme disease, visit the Minnesota Department of Health website.
This is a very informative resource for more information about Lyme disease in dogs.
Mercola Healthy Pets – Natural Flea/Tick Protection information
MQ7 Green Science (cedar oil and plant-based product)