The early arrival of intense heat and humidity in the area has been a boon for bloodsucking ticks, dramatically increasing the chance of tick-borne illness in our dogs and cats. Taking steps for preventing and removing ticks is integral to reducing your pet’s risk of contracting a tick-borne disease.
Routine inspection after outdoor play is key – particularly for those who live in densely wooded areas. Environmental preventive measures, such as fence lines and mulch barriers can help. Natural and conventional treatments are also highly effective at repelling or killing ticks on contact.
Certified veterinary technician Caroline Wolff offers additional insights regarding treatments for preventing and removing ticks from your dog or cat:
Wolff says she is seeing more and more people opt for various brands of collars. “The key to a collar is that it has to be snug around the neck to really work properly,” Wolff says. “When the collar is really loose, that doesn’t help. The effective ingredients on the collar have to rub off on the skin and on the hair – and then it spreads that way.”
A majority of pet owners appear to prefer oral treatments, when feasible.
“One of the leading treatments that we use at the hospital is a monthly chewable in the isooxazoline drug class that prevents the vast majority of fleas and ticks,” says Wolff. There are two popular brands, with different durations of action depending on the dose of drug in the monthly chew. It does arrive with a disclaimer that efficacy for certain tickborne diseases, like American Dog Ticks, lasts only eight weeks, and this class of drugs should not be used dogs that have neurological issues.
Some oral products, says Wolff, actually work as prevention for heartworm and a couple of intestinal parasites like roundworms and hookworms, in addition to ticks and fleas. These are taken monthly.
“Obviously, you should consult your veterinarian,” Wolff says. “Someone out in California, or down in Mississippi or Florida, as opposed to Maine, will be dealing with different climates, temperatures, and environmental factors. Your vet is going to be able to advise on the best treatments for use in certain areas.”
Topical treatments work through direct skin contact, Wolff explains. Pet owners need to part their pet’s hair well and apply to the skin directly.
“Usually, the primary site for treatment is behind the neck or in between the shoulder blades where animals are less inclined to lick it off. This is especially important for cats, who need to groom themselves.”
As always, Wolff says, the proper placement depends on the animal. “Are you talking about a chihuahua or a Bernese Mountain Dog, which is really long and big? Sometimes, it’s recommended to administer topical treatments in between the shoulder blades, mid-back, and at the tail base to kind of separate it so you get more even coverage.”
Many topical treatments claim to be waterproof. But, Wolff stresses, are they shampoo proof?
“If you’re going to be grooming or bathing your dog, you don’t want to apply the topical treatment and then two days later, give your pet a head-to-toe bath. The premise with the liquid is that it’s supposed to be spread through the oils of the skin. Obviously, if you use shampoo, you’re going to reduce the effectiveness of that.”
For pet owners who are using topical treatments, it is recommended to hold off on applying the treatment until 24 hours after bathing, which allows the animal to dry thoroughly first.
Sprays based on essential oils or herbs are effective for some pets. Owners can spritz this on their pets before they head out to play.
The downside? “It has to be applied almost every day if you’re going to go outdoors.”
Which Treatment is Right for Your Dog?
Some families have small children at home who have continuous close contact with the family pets, constantly hugging and playing with them. These homes may prefer to go the oral route, says Wolff, to eliminate any risk of the medication rubbing off on the little ones. Another option would be to use topical treatments but wait to apply them until after the children are asleep in bed – allowing the treatment ample time to dry.
The same can be said for flea and tick collars, says Wolff. Many owners may feel the medication may rub off on their hands when they pet their dogs. In these cases, an oral medication may be the safest and most comfortable option.
Wolff says that pet owners who are breeding dogs or have a dog with certain neurologic disorders or epilepsy, should seek professional counsel before deciding on flea and tick prevention.
“It’s always best to seek advice from your veterinarian,” she says. “Find out what they recommend for their pet and their lifestyle.”
“A poodle that uses pee pads in the house will have different needs compared to a hunting dog,” she continues. “So, you need to consider if this animal’s lifestyle warrants certain products.”
How to Properly Remove a Tick
If despite your best efforts, your dog still shows up at the door with an uninvited guest, there are a few simple steps you can follow at home to get rid of the intruder.
- First, use tweezers or a Tick Twister to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. Do not yank. Steadily pull the tick until it is free.
- Do not be alarmed if a reddened spot or bump appears. This is common and can last up to two weeks.
- If you suspect a Lyme tick bite, ask your veterinarian to retest your dog in approximately six weeks for tickborne disease. Lyme ticks are very tiny, says Wolff.
“I’m sure there are a ton of remedies online for preventing and removing ticks,” Wolff says, but she urges pet owners to do their due diligence, and to seek a professional’s help whenever in doubt.
“Each dog is different, and their lifestyle is different,” Wolff says. “So, you should talk to your veterinarian who knows best and knows your animal and have them advise you on the best flea and tick control.”