|"Toughie" loves to romp in the woodland garden, a perfect haven for ticks.|
It's that time again. Grass is growing, the sun is glowing, gentle breezes are blowing, and in the gardens, we are hoeing and sowing. Then you feel something ticklish on your neck and .... brush off a tick.
Controlling ticks is a top priority for us in the early spring. Whether you're talking about the tiny black deer ticks, Ixodes scapularis, or the larger brown wood or dog ticks, Dermacentor variabilis, ticks are more than just a gardening nuisance. They are carriers of tick born illnesses such as Lyme Disease, several relapsing fevers, ehrlichiosis, and tularemia to name but a few and they are a significant health hazard to both people and pets.
Where we live in coastal Massachusetts, ticks are a particularly serious problem and that raises many concerns for us. Even though the diseases caused by ticks can be severe and debilitating, toxic effects associated with tick repellants are equally problematic, never mind the fact that they aren't completely effective.
|Emily Rose was successfully treated for Lyme Disease as a puppy.|
Our "Tick Protocol" is an integrated approach that combines actions we can take to make our yard less hospitable to ticks along with topical applications and holistic preventives for the dogs.
We take a two-pronged approach with our yard. First, we try to keep the areas that would be attractive to ticks to a minimum - not an easy task since we abut a meadow that is a formidable tick and mosquito breeding area. For us that means keeping the grass near the fence trimmed and treated, keeping our small area of lawn mowed, and staying ahead of leaf litter in the flower beds and tree grove.
|Toughie keeps a sharp eye out for small animals sneaking into the garden.|
Toughie is especially diligent about patrolling for woodchucks and rabbits, but ticks from the tall grass on the other side of the fence often jump onto his head and ears.
|Katie's favorite pastime: rolling around in the grass.|
Treating the yard to repel and kill ticks has been very effective in dramatically reducing the number of ticks we find on the dogs. In that regard, both oil of rose geranium and diatomaceous earth have found valued places in our protocol.
When the temperature spiked in early March, we immediately began finding large numbers of ticks on each of our four dogs. It was not uncommon to remove as many as 4-6 ticks from each dog daily, and we were finding them on the furniture and walking around on the floor as well, likely brought in by the dogs where they subsequently fell off and went in search of another warm-blooded host.
Because of our concern for our koi as well as for the environment, we use no toxic chemicals in controlling any insect pests in our gardens, ticks included. An effective yet entirely safe tick repellant is the essential oil of rose geranium which we spray throughout our entire yard and include in a topical spray for the dogs.
Within days of spraying the yard with a solution of oil of rose geranium, and likewise spraying the dogs with an all-natural home-made tick repellant (instructions for both are included below), the number of ticks we found in daily "tick checks" dropped to less than 1-2 weekly among all of the dogs.
I try to spray the yard for ticks at least monthly from April through September. Whereas the winter was so mild and spring came so early, a bumper crop of ticks has plagued this area. I sprayed for the first time in mid-March and I've increased the frequency to every 2-3 weeks at least until we get them under control. As for the dogs, we try to spray them every couple of days with my homemade topical along with applications of a "spot on" product.
Another inexpensive, easy, effective, and environmentally friendly approach is to dust the tall grass and underbrush - areas where ticks breed and thrive - with diatomaceous earth. It's important to use the agricultural or food grade preparations, not the preparations for swimming pool filters, which contain toxic chemical additives.
|Toughie often nibbles on lavender.|
However, if your dog likes to nibble on grass or lavender as ours do, the DE will not harm them and in fact, might even help. Food grade DE has been used for over a century as a de-wormer for people, dogs, and livestock.
DE is particularly useful after a period of damp whether, which is a prime breeding time for ticks. DE loses its effectiveness in damp conditions and needs to be applied after the ground has dried out and reapplied after each rain. With all of the rain we're having this week, I'll wait until we are going to have 24 - 48 hours of warm dry weather and then dust the grass along the fence and the underbrush throughout our little wood grove, and spread it liberally under the wild ginger and other low growing plants that the slugs seem to favor.
Because extended contact with DE can be very drying to the hands, I avoid spreading it with my bare hands and wear gardening gloves when I handle it. I have eyeglasses, but for those who don't have prescription eye protection like I do, goggles are a good idea. DE is a fine abrasive powder and you don't want it to blow into your eyes. Wearing a workshop mask or a simple bandana tied over your mouth and nose will also help keep you from breathing it in. Of course, avoid spreading it on a breezy day.
As far as the mechanics of spreading it, either shaking it from a wire mesh kitchen strainer or a flour sifter are two easy methods that utilize recycled, outdated kitchen gadgets (that should not find their way back into the kitchen after you've used them in the garden).
Repellants and "Spot On" Treatments
|Toughie patiently waits for Katie to return his ball.|
They are designed primarily to kill ticks that climb onto your dog and remain there, especially if they latch onto them to feed, but that can take up to 48 hours. And there seems to be some evidence that ticks may be developing a tolerance to some of the popular tick repellants, reducing their overall effectiveness.
Taking all of this into consideration, our vet, Dr. Regina Downey, DVM, of Exeter, NH, has recommended that we switch to Vectra 3D this year. There are two preparations available, one that targets just ticks, and one that targets ticks, fleas, and mites. Since fleas are never a problem for us, we chose the least chemically complex preparation to use for our dogs.
Because every situation and every dog is different, it's important to have a dialog with your vet about the risks and benefits to using topical "spot on" type treatments for tick control that can have serious side effects for many dogs. The prevalence of ticks varies greatly in different parts of the country as well as between country and city environments, and teacup and miniature breeds are far more prone to significant toxic effects from these kinds of applications than much larger dogs.
While "spot on" treatments are not without their potential for side effects, Lyme Disease can be just as debilitating and deadly, especially if it is not diagnosed early in the course of the illness. Your vet can help you weigh the relative pros and cons between the possible side effects from preventives and the risk of acquiring Lyme Disease in your area.
Homeopathic Veterinary Approaches
Dr. Downey also has some homeopathic tools to add to the tick-fighting arsenal. One product she offers is her specially prepared Bicom solution that is added to our dogs' water bowls with every water change. BICOM (short for BIological COMputer) utilizes bio-resonance vibration therapy as a method of modulating electromagnetic vibrations or frequency patterns that impair health. In more advanced applications, it can be used to counteract negative influences on the body and the immune system.
|I wonder if there is a Bicom application for dogs and furniture!|
The negative wave pattern is imprinted into a solution of water that can be administered in the dogs' drinking water or your morning orange juice and bedtime tea. (Yes, people can use it too. It is, after all, basically water that has been programmed to vibrate to a modified electromagnetic frequency.)
While it can be hard to know which methods are effective and to what degree, my personal experience with Dr. Downey's BICOM tick drops has been overwhelmingly positive. While my husband is the first to point out that an "n of 1 is meaningless", being the "n" involved gives me a unique perspective. I added BICOM drops to my liquid intake twice daily last year and despite extensive time spent gardening and playing in the yard with the dogs, not a single tick climbed on my clothing, into my hair, or onto my skin while I was outdoors. In fact, the only ticks that I had personal contact with found me in my bed, where they tumbled off either one of the dogs or crawled off Steve's gardening clothing, which he often laid on the bed when he came in from working in the yard.
I am adding BICOM drops to my diet this spring and summer as well. Recently a friend helped me to reinforce part of our fence with chicken wire before we sprayed for the first time this season. She later related to me that she found multiple ticks in her hair while I had not a single tick find it's way onto me or my clothing. Since I don't routinely spray myself nor do I use any kind of "spot on" preparations personally, I have no competing therapies to confuse the issue. BICOM drops have earned a permanent place in our repertoire.
Oil of Rose Geranium: A Safe but Effective Topical Repellant
|Elizabeth Rebecca and Mister Toughie (Spencer)|
If used regularly, this can significantly reduce the number of ticks that will eventually attach to your pet even in the face of a "spot on" product, as well as minimize the number of ticks that will hitchhike into your home in your pet's fur.
Most "natural" repellants that are commercially available consist of a blend of essential oils in an oily or watery base that must be reapplied every few days. They are effective repellants but usually pricy, considering how often you need to apply them and how much you need to use with each application.
A homemade version is easy to mix and just as effective at a fraction of the cost. My recipe is simple to make and just as effective as a comparable product that is available at our local natural pet supply shop, yet costs me about one-sixth the price of the commercially produced product if I make it myself.
In a clean spray bottle (you can buy spritzer or spray bottles at the "dollar store" and most general merchandise stores), combine one bottle (16 ounces) of witch hazel and a tablespoon (15 ml) of each of the following essential oils: oil of eucalyptus, oil of lemon grass, and oil of rose geranium. The oils will float on top of the witch hazel so you need to shake the bottle gently to mix before and during spraying.
I find that witch hazel makes a very nice base for these kinds of mixtures; there is no oil to stain clothing or furniture after the dog races off from a spray session and it dries nicely on the dogs as well as on us. This mixture is safe (non-toxic) for use on dogs and keeps indefinitely.
Our dogs are low to the ground with long, thick feathers and slippers on their lower legs and feet. I spray the dogs with special attention to their legs, tails, bellies, chest, and under their chin at least every 2-3 days. You don't need to saturate the fur, but spray it liberally and rub their fur to spread it through to the under-layers. Reapply every two-three days (when the fragrance begins to fade) and after a bath.
|The late Mister Dudley, with Spencer (AKA Toughie) and Emily Rose.|
A simple way to treat a small dog is to hold her on a towel in your lap in typical "belly rub" fashion. Rub her belly and help rub the spray into the fur at the same time. With the dog lying in your lap on her back, cuddled in a towel, two people can treat her thoroughly in less than three minutes.
We still check our dogs carefully for ticks at least daily, but the number of ticks we find even just crawling in their feathers, slippers, and tail has been reduced by as much as 90% in the very early spring when this topical spray is the only method of control we might be using.
I have seen it suggested that applying oil of rose geranium to the dog's collar is an effective tick repellant. I have not tried this method but in my experience, the blend of oils that I use in the repellant spray is much more effective than any single oil used alone. Also, it is very important not to apply essential oils directly to the dog's skin undiluted. Essential oils are very concentrated and undiluted, can be very irritating to human and canine skin alike. If you decide to try applying the oils to the dog's collar, remove the collar to apply the oil and be sure that it is completely dry before putting it back around your dog's neck.
Rose Geranium Oil Spray for Tick Control in the Yard
For ongoing tick control, we add oil of rose geranium to our general garden spray at least once a month. That, along with home made garlic oil, effectively controls the number of ticks and fleas in the environment. I mix essential oil of rose geranium in water or natural garden spray concentrate to spray in the yard at a rate of one ounce (30 ml) of essential oil per gallon of solution. You can find our entire protocol here. A revised and updated recipe will be posted on this blog shortly as well, so be sure to sign up to receive new posts.
|A dog tick in its adhesive prison.|
For ticks that stow away in the long fur of our dogs' tails, legs and bellies or on Steve's gardening togs and then drop onto floors or furnishings, adhesive tape makes a quick and easy method of catching and disposing of the offending and unwelcome gatecrashers. Simply place a piece of transparent tape over the tick and then fold the tape back over on itself, forming a permanent prison. Dispose of it in the trash.
In my experience, effective control of ticks requires a comprehensive, multifaceted, integrated approach. Each method we use adds a layer of protection that is cumulative and helps us to dramatically reduce the risk of a tick borne illness for ourselves and our dogs.
For more information about tick borne illnesses and tick control, visit the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Tick-borne Diseases page.
Dr. Regina Downey, DVM, owns the Holistic Animal Healing Clinic in Exeter, NH.
Visit her at www.holisticanimalhealingclinic.org.
Note: Not all treatments that are safe and effective for dogs are equally safe for cats and other small mammals. Always review the use of any products with your vet for safety around all of your family's fur-members.