It’s summer, the perfect time of the year to enjoy the big, grandiose outdoors with your four-legged best friend. After a long week of work and routine, you decide to take Fido to play fetch at the park (the one with the green grass, chirping birds, and tall trees). All is fun and games until you notice small bumps latched onto your dog’s skin. What do you do?
Chances are you’re dealing with ticks, small arachnids and external parasites that live off blood (mostly from mammals). There are over 850 tick species, 100 which can transmit diseases, and five which are common in the United States (mostly prevalent in the Northeast and Upper Midwest). Different species have different characteristics and can carry different, potentially dangerous diseases (Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babeiosis, and Ehrlichiosis, to name a few), but that’s a topic for another day. Right now, we want you to know what to do when you find one of these suckers on a companion animal. Take a deep breath and continue reading.
Becoming a hermit might sound appealing at first, but there are various steps and precautions you can take to avoid these buggers altogether without sacrificing your nature strolls. When you spend time outdoors, check Fido for ticks before heading back home (they like to hide, so check in and behind ears, between toes, and the underbelly). Removing them right away prevents them from digging into skin and becoming embedded. Since ticks can carry diseases, ask your veterinarian for a tick check during exams, find out about tick borne diseases common in your area, and talk about using tick preventive and vaccinating dogs against Lyme disease (cats can be extremely sensitive to chemicals used in tick preventive treatments, so ALWAYS ask a professional first).
Make sure your yard is a tick-free zone by cutting grass, raking leaves and trimming brush, placing a 3ft barrier of wood chips or gravel between your lawn and wooded areas to restrict tick migration, placing playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees and opting for a sunny location instead, and removing old furniture and trash so ticks can’t hide (and scheme, we’re pretty sure they can scheme too). A fence won’t stop a tick, but it’ll keep wildlife (such as deer) out and your pets in. Call your local health officials and ask about applying acaricide in your area or call a professional pesticide company. Perimeter treatments in liquid or granular applications that contain Bifenthrin or permethrin limit the amount of pesticide applied and are much less toxic than back in the day.
Even if you take all the necessary precautions to prevent these pesky parasites from bothering your dogs and cats, you’ll eventually have to deal with removing an embedded tick (brace yourself). You can find various tick removal devices (such as notched tick extractors) in stores like PetSmart, but a pair of fine-tipped tweezers will do the trick. Before you start pulling vampiric arachnids, dab the tick and the surrounding area with rubbing alcohol. Make sure you grasp the tick directly above the head as close to the skin’s surface as possible and pull upward steadily (don’t twist, jerk, or squeeze). Doing this hastily or in a hurry might break the tick’s mouth part (decapitation, in other words) and leave it attached to the skin. If this happens, don’t panic! If you can, remove the broken parts with tweezers. If not, leave them alone and let the area heal. Dunk the tick in rubbing alcohol so it doesn’t come back for a second visit (or leftovers). Make sure you clean the area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, iodine scrub, or soap and water. Apply antibacterial ointment on affected skin as a precautionary measure. If the tick you removed was small, place in a container with rubbing alcohol and bring to veterinarian. Deer ticks are tiny and can carry Lyme disease. Keep an eye on Fido and Fifi throughout the month since tick borne illnesses can take weeks before showing any symptoms (such as lethargy, fever, skin rashes, and decreased appetite and water intake). If you’re concerned about your pet’s health, take him or her to the vet for a checkup.
There! You’ve dealt with your dog or cat’s brief (hopefully) episode with an almost microscopic blood sucker. But what about you? If you thought finding an embedded tick on your furry friend was stressful, imagine finding one of those on yourself. This is the stuff nightmares are made of! Just like we recommend being cautious when heading outdoors with your furry pal, you should take safety measures to keep yourself bite-free. Check yourself (including clothing and gear) after spending time outdoors, wear light colored clothing that’ll allow you to spot the tick quicker, tuck your pant legs into your socks to keep ticks outside, apply repellents to prevent attachment (repellents that contain 20% or more DEET for skin and/or products with permethrin for clothing – make sure products aren’t toxic to pets), and take a nice, hot shower after getting back home (just in case). If you find an attached tick, follow the same steps mentioned above. Tick borne illnesses also affect humans, so watch out for rashes, fever, fatigue, chills, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. If you suspect you might have a tick borne illness, call your physician immediately.
You don’t have to avoid nature in order to have a tick-free household. Be safe when heading out to the vast wilderness (or not so vast yard) and Fido and Fifi will be eternally thankful. A healthy dog is a happy dog, so you might want to stack up on rubbing alcohol and tweezers (just kidding!). Don’t forget to check out the CDC’s website and TickEncounter Resource Center for more information about these pesky suckers.