Last week, I wrote about some commonly held myths about ticks, including that they float in the wind, jump or fall from trees. This week, I'll share some things you can do to try to minimize your dog's (and your) risk of tick bites.
The first step is prevention. Many dog owners use topical prevention products such as Frontline or Advantage, which are applied directly on your dog. The product then enters the dog's system and is secreted through the skin, killing fleas and ticks.
I don't use these products as I don't want to put a poison on my dog that is absorbed and circulated through his system and that comes with a caution not to touch it myself. Just as important, we often see dogs at All Dogs Gym that are on one of the topical products, yet have fleas and/or ticks.I prefer to use treatments that I don't consider toxic to pets.
I have tried three different approaches to tick prevention, and I think they work reasonably well. One is a recipe I was given years ago by a horse owner who said it prevented flies from biting her horses. Mix 1 cup of Avon Skin So Soft (original oil) with 2 cups of white vinegar and 1 to 3 cups of water (less water for tick prevention).
Add 1 tablespoon of eucalyptus or Citronella essential oil (available at most health food stores). Combine these ingredients and put them in a trigger spray bottle. Spray a light mist over your dog and rub it into his coat, avoiding your dog's nose and eyes.
A little goes a long way.A product that many of our clients have tried and like is called Pet Tic Off Oil, which is made up of almond oil and other essential oils. I especially like Tic Off (which we sell at All Dogs Gym) because it is made in New Hampshire by the Slippery Soap Company.
One of our employees discovered this company at the Made in New Hampshire Expo and bought a bottle for us to sample. Another natural product is Vet's Best Flea and Tick Home Spray, which is made up of peppermint oil and clove extract. It, too, has a nice scent.
As with all products, if your dog has a reaction to any of these products, wash him thoroughly to remove any residue.
When you're applying a spray-on product to your dog, make sure you spray his legs as well as the body (avoiding the eyes and nose) because ticks are picked up as your dog runs through weeds, grass and leaf litter, and they crawl upward.
I've used these products on my own dogs. I have found ticks on Larry after a run in the woods, but Larry also bounds through streams, washing off the product I've applied.
So what if your prevention tactics haven't been foolproof (which none is)? The University of Rhode Island Tick Encounter Resource Center (TERC) (www.Tickencounter.org) recommends using needle-nose tweezers, grasping the tick close to the dog's skin and pulling straight out.
Once you've removed the tick, you need to properly dispose of it. Ticks don't crush easily, nor should you try to crush them. Ticks can survive for three days or more under water, so flushing - while it removes the tick from your house - doesn't kill it.
TERC recommends using clear tape to seal the tick to a 3-by-5-inch card and adding the date you removed it. You can examine the type of tick it is under the tape (the TERC website has pictures to compare with), and recording the date you removed it helps in case you develop symptoms.
Personally, I like to dispose of ticks in a jar with Clorox and water. Clorox not only kills the tick, but it makes me feel as if I'm also destroying the pathogens they carry. It's probably silly, but it does make me feel better.
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. Past columns are on her website.