Vet-Approved Ways to Keep Your Pets Safe from Ticks
In these waning days of summer, a canine pal is the perfect companion for any and all fresh air adventures. With idyllic outdoor hangs, however, comes a health risk for you and your pup: tick-borne illnesses.
Virginia Sinnott, a senior staff veterinarian in the emergency and critical care department at Angell Animal Medical Center, says her team is gearing up for a heavy tick season this late summer and early fall. “The mild temperatures and the fact that we’ve seen a lot of animals test positive for tick diseases already this year always makes us suspicious,” she says. “With people being outside and enjoying the weather, that’s when we see them.”
There are plenty of ways to protect your furry friends without sacrificing your time in the great outdoors, though. Here are Sinnott’s best tips:
1. Improve your environment. “You used to think the average dog that gets Lyme disease is that strapping four-year-old Lab that’s running through the woods,” Sinnott says. But plenty of animals pick up tick-related illnesses just from lounging around the backyard—so it’s important to start your prevention efforts there.
“If you have any brush piles, shrubbery, a botanically cluttered backyard, try to push that to the periphery,” Sinnott suggests. “The more well-kept your backyard, the lower probability that you’re going to have a problem.”
Similarly, when you do take Fido out for a change of scenery, try and stick to wood-chip, paved, or well-trodden paths, where the risk of transmission is lower.
2. Invest in a long-term solution. Sinnott uses a Seresto collar—which provides eight months of full-body protection—on her own dogs. She also recommends NexGard, a monthly tick protection chew, and Bravecto, a chew that safeguards pups for 12 weeks.
3. Make tick checks part of your routine. When you return from an outdoor adventure, scan your dog for ticks and run your hands through his coat, focusing on the face and neck area. If you do find one, you can remove it with tick-picking tweezers or your fingers. If you go the bare hands route, “You really just want to get your fingers down by the base, right where the head joins the skin,” Sinnott says. “Just pull directly out with increasing pressure. You don’t want to yank, because that’s more likely to break the tick and leave the head in.” (Nervous? Sinnott says many vets will remove ticks free of charge.)
Once you get that sucker out, you need to dispose of it properly. Flush it down the toilet, or submerge it in a jar of rubbing alcohol. “They will crawl out [of the trash],” Sinnott cautions. “They’re pretty hardy creatures.”
4. Protect yourself. If a tick is crawling on your clothes or shoes, it’s that much easier for it to get on your pet. Sinnott recommends coating your shoes with DEET or tick repellant before any woodland outings.
5. Remember your feline friends, too. Tick-borne diseases aren’t quite as common in cats, but you should still be conscious of keeping the critters at bay. “Cats can actually suffer significant blood loss if they have a high tick burden, especially as they get older, so tick prevention is just as important,” Sinnott says. Seresto and Bravecto also make tick prevention products for cats.
6. Remain calm. The risk of ticks shouldn’t keep you cooped up indoors, Sinnott says. Just do as much as you can to prevent transmission, and familiarize yourself with the warning signs of tick-borne illnesses, including lethargy, lost appetite, limping, and fever. If it seems as though “the lights went out” on your dog, Sinnott says, it’s time to consult a vet.
And even if you do find a tick on your pet, don’t immediately freak out. “It actually takes quite a while after a bite for a tick to transmit Lyme disease,” Sinnott says. “It’s usually the tick you didn’t see that gives you Lyme disease, not the tick you saw.”