Ticks are nasty little things. Not only do they make your pet uncomfortable, they also pose a threat to human health.
Illnesses like Lyme disease are transmitted by their bites, and can affect humans as well as animals. So here are 15 tick treatment and prevention tips for pets.
Tick prevention tips for pets
There are various ways to protect your pets from tick bites. Each has it own pros and cons.
1. Be selective in where your pet roams
Ticks usually live in long grass or low-level foliage, and grip onto any host who brushes past.
Keep pets indoors isn’t realistic. In late spring and summer, when ticks are most active, walk your dog in the street rather than letting them run free in the countryside.
2. Tick-proof your back yard
Of course, it’s not always practical to keep pets cooped up. There are ways to make your yard a hostile environment for ticks. Cut down long grass, trim overgrown shrubs, and rake away leaf litter, so bloodsuckers have nowhere to hide.
You can spray the perimeter of your yard with insecticide, but this is often unsafe for animals. A good compromise is to leave ‘tick tubes’ in your yard, filled with cotton that has been treated with a tick-killing chemical.
Mice will steal the soft fabric to line their nests, inadvertently killing any ticks in the area. Mice are a major carrier of infected ticks, so this can really cut down on the number of parasites nearby.
3. Check pets regularly
Pets should be checked for ticks whenever they have been outside. If you check your pet as soon as they’ve come in, you may be able to find and brush away ticks before they’ve bitten.
They can bite anywhere, but prefer the areas where the fur is thin. This is usually the face and neck, the underbelly, and the insides of legs, so focus on these areas when checking for ticks.
Brush your fingers slowly all over your pet, feeling for any lumps, and paying especially close attention to long-haired animals. A feeding tick will look like a small pebble on your pet’s skin.
4. Spot-on treatments
You can buy tick treatments which are dripped onto a small patch of skin once a month, and release an active ingredient for several weeks.
Some types work by repelling ticks, some by killing ticks which take a bite. They are convenient, as they aren’t washed off by bathing or grooming, but can be toxic if ingested – avoid touching your pet until the treatment has totally dried.
Some of the most popular products include K9 Advantix II, Bio Spot-Spot On for Dogs, Bio Spot-Spot On for Cats, and Merial Frontline Plus Flea and Tick Control (although there are counterfeit issues with the latter product).
Pesticide products that kill ticks are called acaricides. They are commonly used in impregnated collars, sprays, dusts or topical treatments. Some acaricides kill the tick on contact. Others may be absorbed into the bloodstream of a dog and kill ticks that attach and feed. Source: CDC
5. Sprays, shampoos, and powders
These are different types of topical tick repellent, which all work in a similar way. Sprays and powders are rubbed into the fur, and will usually last for a few weeks as long as the animal doesn’t get wet; shampoos are used to soak the fur before being rinsed off, and usually last only a few days.
6. Oral tablets
There are only a handful of medications which have been proven to kill ticks – most brands labelled “flea and tick medication” have only been tested on fleas. Tick-killing tablets, administered monthly, are available only on prescription from your veterinarian.
You can buy collars such as the Virbac Preventic Tick Dog Collar that are imbued with permethrin, a scentless insect repellent which will discourage ticks from latching onto your pet.
These collars are great for cats, because they are small enough for the collar to protect their whole body.
On large dogs, some collars will only protect the head and neck while others such as the well-reviewed Bayer Ceresto Tick and Flea Collar offers whole body protection (keep in mind that it takes a few weeks to become fully activated).
8. Natural remedies: be cautious.
There are lots of natural remedies said to discourage ticks, from essential oils to common foods like garlic and lemon, but it’s usually a bad idea to apply them to your pet.
Dogs’ and cats’ noses are so sensitive that strong-smelling treatments can drive them crazy. Garlic and citrus are poisonous to most animals.
A natural treatment which works: coconut oil
Simply rub it into your pet’s fur daily. The disadvantage is that it leaves a greasy residue, so if your dog likes to roll around on the carpet they will leave stains.
Ticks on pets treatment tips
9. Careful removal
Whichever method you use, make sure that the tick is fully removed. It’s easy to break off the tick’s body but accidentally leave the grasping headparts embedded in the skin.
This is not only uncomfortable, but leaves your pet vulnerable to infection.
10. Picking them off with tweezers
Using needle-nose tweezers (flat tweezers would crush the tick), grip the tick as close to the skin as you can.
The aim is to pinch the head of the tick, not its body or your pet’s skin. Pull steadily outwards in a straight direction until the tick comes away from the skin.
It might take a couple of minutes of tugging before the tick lets go, as they have barbed mouthparts which grip flesh tightly.
11. Whipping them off with thread
Another possible technique is to tie a fine thread around the tick, as close to the head as possible, and pull upwards and outwards.
This method isn’t ideal (there’s a risk of crushing the tick’s body if the thread is in the wrong place) but it’s a useful back-up if you don’t have the correct tools handy.
12. Tick removers
Tick removers are designed to grip the tick’s head and twist it free: some look like a tiny bent fork, others like a loop of wire at the end of a stick. They are usually more comfortable for pets than tweezers, as the twisting motion won’t tug your pet’s fur.
13.Preserving the tick
Tick-borne illnesses are hard to diagnose: some pet owners preserve the tick after removal, to show to the veterinarian if their animal later becomes sick.
Simply drop the tick into a container with some rubbing alcohol, which will kill and preserve it, and mark the lid with today’s date.
14.Treating the bite
The bite should be cleaned and disinfected after you’ve removed the tick, to reduce the risk of infection.
15. How not to remove ticks from pets
There are plenty of old wives’ tales about removing ticks. Burning it off with a lit cigarette, suffocating it with a thick layer of Vaseline, spraying it with insect repellent, freezing it with an ice cube… all bad ideas.
When a tick becomes physically agitated – like if you squeeze its body – it responds by regurgitating the contents of its stomach.
That means infectious sludge will be squirted inside your pet, increasing the risk of tick-borne illnesses.
Avoid ticks as much as possible; check your pet regularly; remove ticks scrupulously. Three simple steps to keep your pet healthy and happy all summer.