Ticks are vile, worthless little creatures. They are disease-ridden, opportunistic bastards. Parasitic little lushes. In short, they suck (ha!).
Last year we battled black ants. This year, we’ve waged war against ticks.
With three dogs running around, we knew ticks would eventually become an issue. The dogs love to hike with us, root around in the woods around our house, and have generally run amok outside since the weather started warming up. It didn’t take long for us to find a couple of ticks blissfully engorging themselves on the hemoglobin of our precious puppies.
Ticks are not a completely new thing to me. Fortunately (?), I’ve had plenty of experience dealing with the little jerks in the past. I grew up around horses and the little f*&%ers used to crawl into their ears – HUNDREDS at a time – and set up camp. It was my job to pluck them out one-by-one and drop them into a vat of rubbing alcohol. The memories make me gag and shiver. But, fortunately, Lyme disease is not as rampant out in California as it is in the Northeast, so my horses were never infected. Nor was I, despite being bitten a number of times.
Not so fortunately, Lyme disease is very common where we live now. I don’t spend my days worrying about it, but in the wise words of my husband, “I’d rather not get it.” Touche.
So in an effort to prevent our dogs and ourselves from contracting Lyme disease this summer, we have become vigilant in our efforts to seek and destroy every tick that dares cross our path.
First off, however, we figured some prevention was in order.
Step One: Vaccinate
Yes, we made sure to get our dogs the Lyme disease vaccine. Sure, it’s a little controversial, as all vaccines are these days. But, in general, I don’t buy into the anti-vaccine hoopla – in humans or animals. Given our lifestyle, the odds of our dogs contracting Lyme disease without the vaccine were much higher than them having a negative reaction to the vaccine. Easy decision.
Step Two: Frontline
A harder decision was whether or not to use a topical (CHEMICALS!) tick control, such as Frontline. So I called our vet’s office for their opinion. Not surprisingly, they wholeheartedly recommended it, especially this year with the brutally wet weather we’ve been having. They assured me it’s safe. In fact, they said, it’s SO SAFE that it’s approved for use on children in France for head lice. Good to know. Remind me never to have kids in France. In any case, we decided that once again the pros outweighed the cons.
Frontline controls against ticks by killing those that attach to the host within about 36 hours – they become paralyzed and simply fall off. Generally, 36 hours is before the nasty little buggers can transmit any disease. Frontline also controls fleas by impeding the growth of larvae. Yay. Not so “yay” is that because the ticks will still attach, Step 3 is still required.
Step Three: Seek
This is the fun part. Revenge. That’s the only way I can look at it without getting utterly grossed out. Since discovering the first few ticks a few weeks ago, we have been very careful about checking the dogs every time we come back from a hike or a sustained romp in the backyard. The dogs love it – it means extra pets and treats! I make sure to thoroughly check their ears, under their collars, their armpits, and bellies to make sure no ticks have taken up residence. I’ve gotten pretty adept at feeling them – the best description I can give is that they feel like skin tags.
But if you have a hairy beast like this one, they can be hard to find.
Once I find one, removing them is usually a two-person job. I enlist Dave to distract the afflicted dog and hold her steady while I ready myself with tweezers and a bowl of rubbing alcohol.
Step Three: Destroy
DO NOT buy into the myth that lighting a match and holding it against the tick will cause it to detach on its own. You’ll only set your dog on fire. Instead, firmly grab the tick with a pair of tweezers as close to its head as possible. And then pull it straight out – gently, but firmly. Try not to twist it, or else you risk spilling its diseased juices all over. And for Pete’s sake, don’t use your fingers – definitely use tweezers. It’s also a bit of a myth that it’s easy to leave the tick’s head behind. Grab close enough to the base of the skin and the head will come out easily. Like this.
Once removed, don’t squeeze it (those diseased juices again), simply deposit it into a pool of rubbing alcohol and watch it slowly die. Clean the bite area with a little alcohol, wash your hands, give your pup an ear scratch and a treat.
*Important note: DO NOT use water to kill the tick. DO NOT use hydrogen peroxide. The only thing that will truly kill them is rubbing alcohol. We learned that the hard way when, in a pinch, I reached for the hydrogen peroxide bottle and ten minutes later I looked in the bowl and the little bastard had escaped. Who wants to come sleep in our guest bed tonight?*
Step Four: Chickens!
Chickens! No, we haven’t actually implemented Step 4 yet, but I’m working on it. Dave is not yet convinced, but I’ve wanted chickens for years now and pest control seems like the most logical, practical excuse to get them yet.
Feel free to leave comments about how you had millions of ticks on your property and then once you got chickens you haven’t seen one since. I would really appreciate it. Thank you in advance.