keeping ticks off your dog - dealing with ticks in the environment
The Preventic Collar
The Preventic collar is generally recognized as the gold standard against which all other tick preventives are measured. The active ingredient is Amitraz. If you use the collar, you must read and follow the directions on how to fit it. "The collar needs to be placed so you can get two fingers between the collar and the dog's neck – no more, no less. If the collar is placed too tightly, irritation can occur." The Preventic collar takes 24 hours to become effective.
The Preventic collar has no effect on fleas.
There are a few drawbacks to the collar. Rain won't affect its usefulness but it must be removed before the dog goes in water. It can be dangerous if a dog gets it in his mouth or ingests it; it can also be dangerous to another dog if they roughhouse and the other dog gets it in his mouth. The collar is in wide use and is generally safe if fit correctly but you are the best judge of whether or not to use it in your particular situation.
See the bottom of the right column for a reference on the efficacy of the Preventic collar.
The Preventic collar should not be used on a sick dog.
Frontline is often recommended as one of the best tick preventives and comes in several forms: Frontline Top Spot, Frontline Spray and Frontline Plus. The active ingredient is fipronil. Fipronil targets the nervous system of ticks and fleas, paralyzing the tick as it slogs through the dog's fur so that it is unable to suck blood and pass infection some time before it actually dies.
Frontline spreads out over the dog and settles in the skin's sebaceous (oil) glands, continually coating each individual hair as it emerges from the gland at its base. It takes about 48 hours to completely cover so your dog shouldn't be sent out into an area where ticks are waiting directly after you apply it for the first time. Frontline does not go any further into a dog.
Because Frontline spreads through the oils on a dog's skin, you should bathe him, if you're going to, at least two days before you apply it. If your dog has a negative reaction to Frontline, call the vet and bathe him (the dog, not the vet). Merial recommends a shampoo containing benzoyl peroxide.
Frontline Plus has an insect growth regulator added that targets juvenile fleas and prevents them from becoming adults. IGRs have absolutely no effect on ticks.
You should not try to stretch the time between applications! Ticks which survive the continually shrinking amount of Frontline left on the dog after the recommended 30 day re-application time may become immune to it simply because there is not enough left to kill them. One thing we do not need is ticks that are immune to the few weapons we have to use against them.
Like Frontline TopSpot, K9Advantix is a spot-on that spreads out over the dog's skin. It contains two main ingredients: permethrin, which repels and kills ticks and mosquitoes, and imidocloprid, which targets fleas. It seems to work well.
Be very careful, though, if you have cats. K9Advantix contains permethrin which is known to be highly toxic to cats and there is a strong warning on the label. Do not use this product on a cat! If you have cats that like to groom the dogs they live with or snuggle up to them (I've heard it's possible!), you might want to rethink using it.
I wouldn't take Bayer's claim that K9Advantix protects against West Nile Virus too seriously. Since dogs don't suffer or die from West Nile Virus, so what? Your dog may appreciate not being so attractive to mosquitoes, though, and if it will repel other insects such as the caddis flies which carry N. risticii, that would be a huge incentive to use it.
The caution against stretching the time between applications applies here, too.
All three of these preventives are preferable to anything that the dog must take orally, in my opinion. It makes no sense to me to use an all purpose product that does several other things and...oh, yes, targets ticks. Nor does it make sense to use a preventive that will only work after the tick bites the dog. Besides which, something designed to kill ticks is not going in my dog's blood, thank you.
Remember, although the Preventic collar comes close, no tick preventive is going to be 100% effective.
Using a Spot-On
Directions for spot-on tick preventives may tell you to put the entire contents of the small vial between the dog's shoulder blades. A number of people, of whom I'm one, prefer to do it differently. We dot the liquid in a series of spots down the dog's back, pushing the fur aside to make sure we get it right on the skin, going from the area between the shoulder blades to just above the tail. It's less messy and it may shorten the time it takes for the preventive to cover your dog completely.
If you suspect that your dog may be one of the few that have a reaction to a spot-on, you can sacrifice a vial and put 'one' drop on his skin. Within 24 hours, 48 at the most, you should have your answer. If you see a small area like a burn, call the vet and ask what to use for relief. This kind of reaction is rare. I personally know of only three dogs that have experienced it and I have been on the internet dog lists for years.
Shampoos containing benzoyl peroxide are said to be effective in removing spot-on preventives.
Natural Tick Preventives for Dogs
For various reasons, some people elect not to use any commercial tick preventive on their dogs. They buy so-called natural products or make their own from essential oils. These products or recipes for them can be found all over the web and I don't include any here for various reasons of my own. Here they are.
At any rate, my advice would be to use a proven preventive like the Preventic Collar, Frontline TopSpot or Spray, or K9Advantix and reserve the natural repellents for the house and yard.
Environmental Tick Combat Techniques
The first and simplest step in controlling ticks is to rake up leaves, clear away brush and tall grasses and trim back overhanging tree branches. Take away the tick's hiding places.
Liquid Dish Soap
Believe it or not, liquid dish soap is very useful in getting rid of ticks. Put a couple of inches of Ivory Liquid in a garden sprayer, attach the water hose and have at it. Spray the outside walls of your house and the yard. People who've done this say it works just fine...until the next rain. Afterward, if you still see any, out you go to spray again. One person who wasn't certain how much liquid soap to use, filled the sprayer up with it! She reported no damage to her plants.
Be careful not to spray when the beneficial and endangered honeybee is around. Anything that will kill a tick will kill them. It's probably best to spray in the evening when they've returned to the hive.
John Burchard, PhD, the owner of Tick_L and our resident entomologist, reports that dish soap is also good to use as a shampoo when your dog comes in covered with seed ticks which are almost impossible to pick off by hand. They wash right away.
Many homeowners are familiar with "mosquito dunks" which contain nematodes that parasitize the larvae of mosquitoes and kill them. Less well known is that research has also been done on using nematodes to control ticks.
Barbara Flook, a member of Tick List, corresponded with Dr. D.E. Hill who had done some of this research and asked her about using nematodes.
Dr. Hill replied that they were indeed effective against ticks. The ones that did the best job were Heterorhabditis megidis, H. bacteriophora, and Steinernema riobravis, though others have also been found to work.
Nematodes, she said, are actually quite mobile, and can track down their preferred victims, the tick larvae, by following a scent trail through soil for quite a distance.
Nematodes can be applied in water with a typical garden sprayer. You will need to apply about 1 million per square yard and the soil should be kept moist, since the nematodes die if they dry out, but not wet, since you don't want to drown them. They don't do well in compacted soil.
Further information about nematodes can be found on these websites.
USDA Agricultural Research: an article about Dr. Hill's work
Google "entomopathogenic nematodes" (no quotes) to find out where to buy them.
While not for the sensitive nose and probably not for anyone who has close neighbors, granulated sulfur has been found to work very well in driving away ticks. A member of Tick List living in a heavily wooded area plagued by ticks, worried about his dogs and his kids. He Frontlined the dogs and spread granulated sulphur over his entire yard with the type of spreader you use for fertilizer. Ticks vanished. As soon as he went outside the protected area, though, he said they were all over his boots and pant legs. So the sulfur won't kill them but it will force them out of any area where you use it.
Granulated sulfur stays put when it rains. Powdered sulphur doesn't but it has the same repelling effect on ticks, so if you want to try sulfur and can't find the granulated, it's worth using even if you have to get out there more often and reapply it. Just putting it around the perimeter of your yard should help.
Some brand names: Dragon Wettable or Dusting Garden Sulfur, Fertilome Dusting
I've been reminded by a member of Tick List (who was highly amused at the thought of her Giant Schnauzers cavorting with them) that guinea hens are a natural tick preventive because they eat ticks . So they do! If you have the room and like guineas (and fresh eggs) it's worth a try.
Some of the members took huge exception to guineas, which they say have a penchant for getting lost and being loud and messy. According to them, chickens work just as well and are easier to live with. Even better, if you get Arucanas, you can have lovely, pale green eggs!
Advice from Experts
Tick Encounter Resource Center: The U. of Rhode Island's webpage
The excellent Tick Management Handbook from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven, is now available for download in .pdf format.
When all else fails, hire an exterminator
Brown Dog Ticks live in the house. If you have an infestation, your only option may be to move out for a few days and have a professional exterminator come in to get rid of them. Be sure to get a guarantee so the company will come back and finish the job if it didn't clear all the ticks out the first time.