Ticks are common ectoparasites of dogs, capable of spreading Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other illnesses. Many chemical treatments are effective for tick control, but some feature substances that pose health hazards for pets and people. Alternatively, manual removal and environmental controls are safer, but they require more time, effort and diligence than chemical controls do.
Manual Inspection and Removal
Make it a practice to inspect your dog thoroughly after returning from places where ticks may live. Look through your dog's fur by pushing it back against the natural hair pattern to expose the skin. Use good light when looking, as some ticks are only the size of a pinhead. Be sure to check the places where ticks are apt to attach, such as the ears, belly, base of the tail, face and armpits. If you find any ticks, remove them carefully by grasping the head and mouthparts with a pair of tweezers. Pull gently until the tick comes free, and then drop the tick into a jar of alcohol to kill it. Avoid any unnecessary contact with the tick, and clean both your hands and the bite site with antibacterial soap and water when you are finished.
Ticks frequently inhabit areas with dense brush or tall grass. Lurking in these places, they wait to grab a passing host. If possible, keep such areas trimmed or prevent your dog from playing in them. Broadcast sprays are available to reduce local tick populations, but some may be harmful to the environment, particularly if they contaminate local waterways. Additionally, such sprays usually require frequent and regular treatment. In rare cases, some ticks can colonize indoor spaces. In these circumstances, use flea and tick foggers or powders to eliminate the ticks.
Many once-a-month topical flea medications are also effective against ticks. These products contain insecticides that are toxic to any fleas or ticks that may bite your dog. This provides a simple way to prevent ticks and is an appropriate strategy for most pet owners. Some of these products come in the form of oral tablets, while others are topical medications. Always apply and handle these medications exactly as indicated on the packaging to reduce the chances of harming your pet or family.
In circumstances where topical medications are not desired or appropriate, chemically impregnated collars are an option. These must be adjusted correctly to ensure that they are tight enough to be effective, but loose enough to allow your dog to breathe, bark and swallow comfortably. Be sure to follow all of the directions on the package, including those covering application, replacement and safety precautions.
Consider employing backup measures that will help protect your pooch, should your primary tick-control strategies fail. According to Doctors Foster and Smith, medications do not always kill or discourage ticks before they transmit diseases. Fortunately, vaccines are available for some conditions, such as Lyme disease. Consult with your veterinarian to determine if your dog is a good candidate for these vaccines.