Deer tick nymph stageSigh… Big sigh… Really big sigh…

I hate ticks.

Especially deer ticks–the carriers of Lyme disease.

And this tick season is as bad as I can recall. (Just to be clear–it’s never not tick season, because adult deer ticks don’t go completely dormant like the nymphs do, but they’re especially active during the Spring and Fall.) I’ve been picking several ticks a day off of each dog for a couple of weeks now. Even with using Frontline. It’s enough to make me want to pack up and move to New Zealand — anywhere where there’s no tick borne disease.

Since I won’t be moving anytime soon, the best offense is a good defense. What follows is a little refresher course on how to exercise good prevention:

  1. Tick sizes

    The life cycle of ticks. Source: CDC

    Make a tick check part of your daily routing. Yes, these ticks are tiny–often smaller than a sesame seed, but you’ll be able to find some that are crawling and haven’t attached yet. Use a flea comb to help you.

  2. Get into the habit of giving your dog a daily massage with your finger tips. You’ll often be able to feel where new ticks have become attached.
  3. Consider using Frontline Plus, monthly throughout the Spring and Fall. It’s an anti-flea and tick medication. It’s available as a spray or as a liquid application that gets applied between the shoulder blades of the dog. You’ll still find ticks when using Frontline, but it kills them within 24 hours of attachment. (Even with Frontline, if I find a tick on my dog, I’ll pull it off because even though it’s thought that the tick needs to be attached for more than 24 hours before the disease can be transmitted, I’d rather be safe than sorry.) Also, if you miss a tick, it will fall off the dog and look for a new host at the next meal. When you use Frontline, those ticks fall off dead. K9 Advantix is another prescription anti-tick medication that repels mosquitoes and kills fleas. Caution: Do not double up on insecticides or repellants.
  4. If you have a serious tick problem, consider using Frontline year round, as well as spraying your yard with an insecticide that targets ticks.
  5. Speak with your vet to see if the new Lyme vaccine is something you want to consider for your dog. The old vaccine did have problems. The new vaccine (Merial or Fort Dodge) is considered safer, as it uses a killed virus as opposed to a modified live virus. Lyme-expert vets recommend the vaccine even for dogs who’ve had Lyme, if they live in endemic areas. The vaccine will help to prevent another serious re-infection. Some people question whether the vaccine will cause a dog to test positive. The answer is no; it’s a different test–antibody vs. antigen. Statistically, the risk of any vaccine reaction is less than one half of one percent. Of course, each of us has to gauge the overall health of our dogs before deciding whether to vaccinate.There is some question as to whether or not a Lyme positive dog should be vaccinated. There are convincing arguments for vaccinating and not vaccinating. It’s worth it to take the time to educate yourself so you know the risks. I’ve decided not to vaccinate my Lyme positive dogs.
  6. If you use Frontline and/or get the vaccine, consider giving your dog Milk Thistle to help detox the liver. Denise Flaim has a great book for holistic information: The Holistic Dog Book: Canine Care for the 21st Century. I also really like Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats

I am a peace-loving person by nature–I carry insects back outside rather than kill them. I hate killing anything. And I prefer natural remedies when I can find them. But because I do live in an endemic area, which means my dogs’ health is put at risk, then ticks beware — because I pull out all the stops! I’ve already lost one dog because of Lyme. I don’t plan on losing any more.

As T.J. Dunn, Jr. DVM says: “We live in a diverse, intricate and ever-changing natural world. It is full of challenges, always prompting us to better understand diseases and vectors, predator and prey, life cycles and evolution. The bacteria that causes Lyme Disease has found a niche in this natural world and will share the planet with us for a long time. The challenge is to learn all we can about it!”