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The Trick to Dealing with Dog Ticks

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Oh, the beauty of spring – flowers blooming, pleasant rain showers, long walks in the park, and – ticks. They kind of take the joy out of the warm weather, don’t they? Ticks become active as soon as the ground thaws out, and they soon climb to perch on a long grass blade or a low branch, waiting for your dog to offer them a meal. Ticks are pests across many different climates, from the cold north to the warm and sunny south, so unfortunately, you don’t get a free pass just because you live in an area with long winters.

(Photo by Peri Apex, 'An Unwanted Passenger')

Your dog can be exposed to ticks anywhere in the outdoors, and even indoors if humans bring them in from a hike. The highest probability of exposure, however, is in areas with taller vegetation. That might be on a mowed path where the dog brushes against tall grass as it walks. Basically, all the areas that dogs most enjoy are likely to have ticks! So what does a dog owner do?

Fighting Ticks? The best defense is a good offense.

Ticks are another area where an old cliché holds true – The best defense is a good offense. You have a range of options, but the most effective ones are going to involve tick repellent or elimination.

The most effective option in many cases is to spray your yard. This should eliminate tick problems if the dog stays in your yard, because the ticks will all be dead (simple, huh?) This approach doesn’t work for a lot of people, though, because spraying your yard regularly is expensive, many of us don’t like indiscriminately eliminating all the insect wildlife in our backyard, and a lot of dogs would still get exposed to ticks if they go on walks outside the yard. If this approach is not for you, read on!

Going for the hard stuff.

Topically applied permethrin is the tick treatment of choice for numerous pet owners. A big advantage of products containing permethrin is that they also protect against fleas. You can check out the selection of these products in your local pet store or farm supply store and find numerous brands with varying prices that only require monthly application for continuous protection. Some of the products must be acquired from a veterinarian and offer greater benefits, but even the basic ones repel ticks and soon kill any ticks that may bite the animal.

Permethrin products are generally applied by parting the hair to the skin at the shoulder blades or along the length of the back and squeezing the contents of a tube onto the dog’s skin. They spread through the natural oils in the dog’s hair coat. Note carefully: Since bathing a dog strips these oils from its hair coat, don’t bathe the dog within 2-3 days of applying the flea and tick prevention, and remember that it will need to be reapplied a few days after a bath.

Checking for tick exposure.

Effective as these products are, you probably need a few more tricks in your bag to provide comprehensive tick prevention. If you think your pet has been exposed to ticks, you should probably do a quick inspection before bringing the dog inside. First of all, check in and around ears and armpits, as these are favorite hiding places for ticks. Then use a slicker brush or fine-toothed comb to quickly brush the dog out and remove any ticks that may not have bitten the dog yet. On a short-haired dog, you can probably visually inspect the dog’s legs to intercept any ticks on their way up. Physically removing ticks this way might be a satisfactory option for you if your dog rarely goes outside or you are opposed to exposing her to chemical products.

Removing the critters

In spite of your best efforts, your dog may still be bitten by an occasional tick, so you need to know how to remove them. Don’t waste your time applying petroleum jelly and waiting for the tick to smother, dry up and fall off. You want to get the tick off as fast as possible to prevent itchiness and possible disease transmission. Grasp the tick as close to the head as possible and slowly pull it out without jerking or twisting the head off (yeah, gross, I know). Experts recommend using tweezers to eliminate any possibility of diseases being transmitted to your hands. Dispose of the tick as you see fit – my great-aunt chopped them up with scissors and flushed them down the stool. So much for handling them with tweezers.

In sum, if your pet is frequently exposed to ticks, your best tick trick is to apply monthly flea and tick prevention that includes permethrin. With this, plus quick checks to get rid of hitchhiking ticks before coming inside, you can hope to enjoy this spring and summer without making too close an acquaintance of these disease-carrying parasites. 

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