Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ewwww, ticks!

Bees bother me, deer flies and horse flies can drive me inside, but the only insect I can truly say I am terrified of is the tick.
Fleas on far left. Engorged tick second from left (so gross!)

And it's tick season. If you're a dog owner, you should know this already.

Unlike down south, where a variety of ticks thrive and can become such a pest that you have to pick them off your dog after every trip outside for a potty break (one more reason I will never live down south), we in Michigan have fewer varieties of ticks and it's not a constant battle to keep them off our dogs. Unfortunately, the deer tick is a particularly dangerous variety and may be the most common around here.

The deer tick can cause Lyme disease, which can be debilitating and difficult to treat.

I have never had a tick (knock on wood) and neither has Sensi. This year, we're using a tick collar as opposed to a topical or oral treatment to keep the nasty bugs off him.

What I like about the tick collar best is that I can feel quite confident in it's ability to keep ticks from attaching in the first place. What I don't like so much is that, well, it's a tacky collar. But whatever —  a package of two cost just $18 and will last me through the fall. And as long as I follow the instructions, I shouldn't have to risk having to pick any ticks off my dog.

Removing ticks can be tricky. If you don't get the tick to release before you pull it out, you can risk it's head being left in the flesh — if this happens, disease can set in. So it's very important to remove a tick properly, both from your dogs and if you happen to get any on yourself. I've never had to do it before and honestly, I think I'd just as soon make a trip to the vet or urgent care to have a professional do it for me. I'm just so worried that I could do it wrong!

Here's some need-to-know tick information: 
1) Tick risk goes up in wooded areas, areas with tall grass and shrubbery and areas with regular deer populations.
2) Protect your dog by talking to your veterinarian about what type of tick protection is best for your dog, and using some!
3) Protect yourself by wearing clothing in high "tick risk" areas that will cover you as best as possible. I've heard tucking your pants into your socks or boots can be especially helpful.
4) Ticks thrive in hot and humid temperatures, so keep that in mind as you plan walks and hikes.
5) Walk in the center of well-defined paths.
6) Check yourself and your dogs when coming in from the great outdoors this time of the year.

No, you cannot use tick preventatives on humans. I've asked. Trust me, if I could wear a tick collar, I would. The bottom line is, your dog has a shorter lifespan than you and the impact of tick preventatives on a dog's long-term health is not considered huge. If you used tick preventatives throughout your lifetime, though, the impact on your long-term health could be substantial.

Here's what my veterinarian Dr. Stephen Steep had to say about ticks during a late May visit to the office:

(Oh yeah, if you really want to be grossed out, the next time you're at your vet's office, ask them to pull out their supply of dead ticks for you. Imagine the engorged ones being attached to you or your pet. Gross!)

Resources for preventing ticks:
Centers for Disease Control: Human tick prevention (I really like the tips about how to set up your yard to keep ticks out)
Centers for Disease Control: Pet tick prevention

Last but not least, do you have a tick story to share? How about a tick removal tip? Let me know. Leave a comment here or email me, karen@oakpress.com.

Or, can you answer this question for me: Exactly what purpose does the tick serve in this grand circle of life? Really, I'm serious. I want to know. For instance, mosquitos feed frogs and dragon flies. This helps me wrap my mind around the greater purpose of a mosquito. Ticks, though, I have no clue. What is their purpose?


  1. I live in NJ, so "tick stories" just doesn't cut it. I'll keep it to one story -- between 3 dogs and 2 humans, we have found over 40 ticks on us this season. That's WITH flea/tick prevention on all 3 dogs, and it doesn't include the handful of dead ticks we find throughout the house after they've been poisoned by the tick preventative.

    As far as the purpose of the tick, the only real benefit I can think of has to do with population control, sort of a "survival of the fittest." Although they are opportunists, it's much easier for the ticks to exploit the old, weak, or sick animals. The old, sick, and weak animals die more easily, and as such, leave more resources available for the healthy, strong, and young animals to thrive on.

  2. Just yesterday I heard this tip for tick removal: soak a cotton ball with liquid soap and place on the tick. Leave it there for about 20 seconds. The tick will move into the glob and get stuck in the cotton. This is a good way to remove ticks in thick hair or between toes where it's hard to tweezer them.

    The tick's role in the grand circle of life? My best guess is they are a good source of protein for birds.

  3. My goodness, Megs. I got shivers up my spine when I read your comment. New Jersey has officially been added to places I won't live as well as places to only visit in colder months. (I was not kidding about my fear of ticks!)

    So, how do you remove ticks?

    Lynn, I've heard that tip before too — just hoping I don't ever have to test it out myself. And the birds! That makes perfect sense.

  4. Our 11 year old sheltie never had a flea or tick problem until 7 months ago. Momma tick lays 2,000 eggs that hatch in days the size of a pin point, and they can live 1 year wihout food and water. We thought we had no chance. Ticks on walls, socks, and 50 a week on dog. Tried about everything except fumigating. Then Diane stumbled on the answer on the internet. It was Diatomaceous Earth (food grade). In two months we have no ticks. DE kills all bugs and even intestinal worms and larva. It is a powder as fine as talcum, non toxic, mostly silica, which is a great health item for humans and pets, even horses, but deadly to all bugs: fleas, ticks, roaches, ants, flies, etc. We drink it in juice every day. Diane & Bob of Florida.