Since I frequently get asked about ticks, here we go…
I spent a lot of time outdoors growing up on the east coast and have spent much of my adult life doing fieldwork off and on through the Mid Atlantic, Northeast, and even a bit in the MidWest. As a kid, every time we came back from my grandparent’s house we were trained to do a tick check since we knew there were ticks there. Quite frequently, I take for granted that most people don’t know how to deal with ticks. Way too many people don’t even realize ticks are out there. And you absolutely need to be aware of them in order to protect yourself. Just because you don’t see them, does NOT mean they are not there. People who need to be aware and learn about ticks include:
→ EVERYONE. Anyone who spends any time at all outdoors in North America.
Even if its just for a day in a friend’s grassy backyard. While most areas in the city, and even many suburbs, generally don’t see many ticks, that has been changing more recently in many places due to milder winters and expanding tick distribution ranges. Basically, if you ever have a bunny, squirrel, mouse, or other wild critters pass through your green space, ticks could be present.
Now don’t freak out. This may sound terrifying, but there are folks who regularly work in highly tick-ridden areas and they manage just fine. Like me. I’ve found and removed countless ticks from myself as well as my dog. Frequently there are more on me than on my dog as she has some awesome monthly tick poison I give her. So far I’ve managed to avoid Lyme disease and, as far as I know, any other tick transmitted disease (although I am knocking on wood as I write this…). How? With constant vigilance, awareness, and prompt removal with subsequent tick death. Never, NEVER, just toss the tick back outside if you find one. That just means it will find another meal elsewhere and make more babies. And quite possibly get back on you if you frequent that same area. I realize many folks don’t realize this, but a live tick is a reproducing tick and one that will be sucking someone or something else’s blood. It drives me nuts when I see someone find a tick and then just chuck the tick back into the grass or the woods before I can stop them… * sigh *
Ticks are a type of parasitic arachnid (no, not a spider, but they are related) that requires blood to complete their life cycle. Along with mites, which they are very closely related to, they comprise the taxonomic subclass Acari. There are many different species found in North America that can cause humans and domesticated animals problems. Check out these resources provided by the CDC and Ticknology to learn more about tick species and ranges.
Most, although not all, ticks need about 24 hours to transmit a disease they may be carrying. Not every tick individual always carries a disease either. It depends on whether they’ve already bitten something carrying a disease. That’s why in some areas (like the northeast) you are more likely to get a disease from a tick than in other areas, even if the same numbers of ticks are present.
To protect yourself, you always need to do a tick check. You can even make it fun if you get creative! If you have a partner – make them help you check the hard to reach places. If checking your dog, it can be a good excuse for extra petting/massage/grooming time.
If you know ahead of time you’re going to be in an area with ticks, dress appropriately to try to reduce the amount of ticks you pick up and increase the amount of time you have to find them crawling before they bite you. Appropriate attire includes light colored clothing (easier to see the dark colored ticks), long pants, long sleeves, hat or other head cover, close-toed shoes, and tucking everything in (so they can’t crawl under). You can even tuck your pants into your socks. I know many folks aren’t fans of chemicals, and normally I’m not either, but when it comes to ticks and other blood suckers, I strongly recommend bug spray. Specifically, you need a bug spray that contains deet or pyrethroids. The higher the concentration, the better. Personally, I usually get something with deet in it (like the Off Deep Woods brand) since its readily available in most drug stores and big chain superstores. I never get anything with less than 40% deet and will always opt for the higher concentrations. It won’t keep all the ticks off you, but any reduction in the number that you have to pull off is worth it in my opinion. I’d rather only pull off one or two instead of ten, wouldn’t you? Be liberal with the spray too. You can always shower the second you get home again. Do be careful spraying around anything plastic though – the high concentrations can semi-melt plastics… I’ve definitely warped a few large hair clips when forgetting and spraying my head (yes, I absolutely spray my head if walking under trees– not my face though). When you do get home again, remember to check your clothes before putting them in the laundry and check the car seat as well if you didn’t before driving home (if you’ve driving – no need to check a non-existent car if you’re walking 😉).
Another thing to keep in mind about ticks is that they can be variable year-to-year how many ticks are in a particular area. This year I’ve found many more dog ticks on my property than I did last year. There have been maybe two on my dog this season (which may have died of poison once they bit her had I not found them, but no need to chance it), one on my leg, one on the bed, one on top of the trashcan, two on the edges of my garden boxes (I totally blame the bunnies that occasionally sneak in), a dead one on the dog’s chair (yay tick poison!), and one in the car crawling up my thigh. Last year I don’t think I found more than maybe two dog ticks all year.
For more information on ticks from experts in the field please read the information on the following sites:
- CDC tick identification
- CDC how to remove ticks
- University of New Hampshire extension
- Is my dog at risk for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases?
- Does Your Dog Need a Lyme Vaccine?
For a hilarious, but also very educational video on ticks in general, check out True Facts. I love this guy’s whole series of nature videos.
PLEASE NOTE: I am not a tick expert (or acarologist) and have no medical expertise. I’m just an entomologist who’s done lots of fieldwork in many places and lived in places with yards and parks of all kinds… This post is strictly my opinion based on personal experience. If you think you may have a tick related medical issue, please seek out a medical professional for help.
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Jessica Aug 23, 2021, 10:14 PM
I live in Se Pa but this applies to all coastal/nearby states. I have sent 20+ ticks to the tick research lab at E Stroudsburg University in Stroudsburg Pa. EVERY SINGLE ONE has come back identified as an Asian Longhorn tick. And every single tick looked completely DIFFERENT. Yet, they seem to be ignored by everyone, everywhere. Our dog contracted severe Lyme from these disgusting ticks (so severe that our vet said she never seen a dog still walking & breathing with his quant C6 levels). The public needs to aware of this threat.
Bug News Aug 25, 2021, 9:09 PM
I'm so sorry to hear about you and your dog's experience with ticks. They really are awful critters. Thank you for sharing this information.
I agree it's incredibly important for folks to be aware that ticks exist - and you're right, they can look very different even within the same species. It's also super important if you have pets that go outside to keep them not only on heartworm preventative, but also on flea and tick preventatives. Pets still need to be checked for ticks even with preventatives, but it does significantly reduce the number that are attached long enough to potentially transmit diseases. For Lyme Disease specifically, there is now a preventative vaccine for dogs. No such luck for humans though.
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IMPORTANT NOTE: While I’m a big supporter of using deet on humans to help keep the biting things off, DO NOT USE DEET ON DOGS. Deet is highly toxic to dogs. If you want bug spray for your furry companion, make sure you get something made specifically for dogs and check with your vet first. Always check with your veterinary first.
It is super important to protect your pets against tick transmitted diseases. If you are in a region that has any tick species, and your pet spends any time outdoors, make sure you keep your pet on tick medication year round (sometimes there are late season ticks even in winter). My dog Sunday loves spending time outside with me, so she stays on tick medication year round and gets tested annually by our vet just to be sure. There are many great tick medications available. Check with your vet to find the best one for you. For us, we have been very pleased with Revolution as well as VetGuardPlus.
Make sure you dog is protected!