Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The ultimate tick guide for the green dog!

This year, here at our cabin and many parts of the country, the ticks are much more prolific than they've been in past years. And there's a reason for that.

According to Susan E. Little, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVM, “there has been an increase in tick populations over decades, but in the last 10 years, they have really exploded.” The Regents professor and Krull-Ewing chair in veterinary parasitology at Oklahoma State University, goes on to say, “and it is not just more ticks, it is more ticks in more places.”

Recent warmer winters, along with an increase in population and migration of migratory birds, deer and coyotes have allowed ticks to survive beyond what they have in the past.

Michael W. Dryden, DVM, Ph.D., university distinguished professor in veterinary parasitology at Kansas State University explains, “it has to be really cold to kill a tick, at least 10 degrees F, and it has to stay that temperature for some time. All it takes is temperatures of around 40 degrees F for ticks to be active. If it just drops overnight and then warms back up, that doesn't help.”

Understanding ticks

Ticks go through four developmental stages - egg, larvae, nymph, and then adult, and they can spread several diseases to dogs if those ticks are infected, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiois, Anaplasmosis, Lyme and Ehrlichosis.

We've learned over the years that just because your dog has been bitten by a tick, it doesn't always mean that they will acquired a tick born disease. But it's always recommended that if you find a tick on your dog that you remove it promptly, which can decrease the odds of disease transmission if that tick is a carrier.

Many veterinarians believe that it takes up to 18 or more hours for an infected Deer Tick, or Black Legged Tick to transmit Lyme, but it may only take one hour for the American Dog Tick to transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to your dog.

Exploring the various ticks and diseases ticks can carry

American Dog Tick - transmits Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The female American Dog Ticks looks very different than the male American Dog Tick and can be found in most states east of the Rocky Mountains. It is also commonly found in California, Idaho and Washington, as well as Canada. This is the only tick we are finding here on our mountain in Georgia.

The Lone Star Tick - transmits Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and, like the American Dog Tick, the female and male look different. This tick can be found in Texas, and surrounding states. We've also seen this tick in Tennessee.

American Deer Tick - transmits Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis. This tick is most commonly found in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic and upper midwestern regions of the United States.

Western Black-legged Tick - transmits Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis and can be found mostly throughout California, but can also be found in other western states along the coast and inland, as well as in Canada.

Brown Dog Tick - transmits Hepatozoonosis, Canine Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis and is found widely throughout the US and Canada.

Gulf Coast tick - transmits Canine Eepatozoonosis. While most commonly found in the eastern US with most populations in the middle-southern region, you can also find it in Virginia, and west to Oklahoma and Kansas, even Canada.

About tick diseases and potential symptoms in dogs

Lyme - Lyme disease is an infection of the tissues that often leads to lameness. Generally speaking symptoms in dogs can be difficult to detect, and consequently Lyme (as well as other tick diseases) is often misdiagnosed. Dogs may appear with symptoms several months after being infected and the symptoms may appear as intermittent lameness, from mild to severe, lethargy, and general reluctance to move.

Ehrlichia - Different strains of Canine Ehrlichiosis are found throughout the United States and Canada. This disease infects the white blood cells of dogs that can eventually affect bone marrow function, including production of blood cells. Symptoms may include lack of energy, loss of appetite, runny eyes and nose with discharge, bruising and lameness and joint pain.

Anaplasma - There are two different strains of Anaplasma, Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Anaplasma platys. Anaplasma platys is an infection of the blood platelets and presents with bruising on the gums and belly, and spontaneous nosebleeds. Anaplasma phagocytophilum presents more like Lyme disease with lethargy, loss of appetite, lameness and neck pain.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever - This disease may be one of the most severe in its onset. It appears very suddenly with a high fever and overall body pain. Your dog may collapse because of severe arthritis-like stiffness when walking and show neurological abnormalities like stumbling, as well. Immediate veterinary medical attention is warranted.

Canine Hepatozoonosis infection - This disease also comes in two forms. Hepatozoon americanum is transmitted by the Gulf Coast tick, and Hepatozoon canis is transmitted by the Brown Dog tick. Hepatozoon canis may not show symptoms, but may through loss of appetite, weight loss and lethargy. Hepatozoon americanum affects the muscle cells, is very debilitating and usually fatal if not treated. A dog infected with Hepatozoon americanum will typically show severe symptoms that occur intermittently, including depression, general pain, loss of muscle mass, weight loss, and perhaps eye discharge.

Babesiosis - This tick borne disease affects red blood cells, and can make a dog anemic. Symptoms include lack of activity/lethargy, weakness, vomiting and weight loss.

These are the most identified tick born diseases for dogs, although the CDC is finding more and more tick diseases affecting humans. We fully expect it will be found that more/additional tick diseases will affect dogs, as well.

Find out which tick diseases are most prominent in your area so that you can understand what symptoms to look for with your dog.

How a tick gets a tick disease and spreads it to others

Most ticks live 2-3 years and go through a variety of stages in their growth as we've discussed  - egg, larvae, nymph, and then adult.

In the larvae stage is when most ticks pick up a tick borne disease, usually and most often from a mouse or other outdoor vermin. Once they have consumed the needed blood for their meal, they move on to the second stage of life, the nymph.

If you've never seen a nymph (also known as a seed tick) tick, you may not even know it's a tick. They are very small, about the size of a pin head. If your dog gets into a seed tick nest they can actually pick up hundreds of ticks very quickly. As nymphs, the ticks move on to their second meal (usually smaller dogs, small mammals, mice and other vermin, birds and even lizards and snakes, sometimes even humans) which if they've been infected in the larvae stage, will pass on a tick borne disease to their host.

Once the nymph is done feeding they drop off and molt into an adult tick. Again, if infected, and they find their third and final host (usually a larger host like a person, deer or dog) and latch on, they have the ability to transmit a disease. If an adult doesn't find it's third host, it may actually winter over and wait for that third host in the spring.

If at any of the three stages of feeding the tick does not become infected, it does not transmit a tick borne disease to your dog.

After the adult tick has finished it's third and final meal it will then mate, lay it's eggs and then die. A tick can lay a whopping 8,000 to 22,000 eggs.

How does a tick find a host?

Hard ticks, which are the ticks we are discussing here, find their hosts (and meals) through 'questing.' They sit on a blade of grass, a leaf or weed, stretch it's limbs out and wait for a host to pass by that they can hang on to.

Contrary to popular believe, hard ticks don't jump and they don't drop down from trees, they actually have to briefly come in contact with a potential host to latch on. In their quest, they will crawl to find their host, as in the case the other day as I was sitting here writing and a tick crawled from the carpet up my leg. You can bet I dropped everything and started up the vacuum, hitting every inch of the cabin.

But how did that tick find me as a potential host? It waited patiently until it 'sensed' a host nearby and then made it's move. Interestingly, some ticks have eyes that can sense color and movement; and many ticks detect carbon dioxide from up to 65 feet away, which is what dogs and humans give off when exhaling.

How does a tick transmit a tick born disease?

When the tick finds a host, it inserts it's mouth parts into the skin and begins to suck the host's blood and engorge. As this occurs, tick saliva makes it's way into the tick bite wound and it's that saliva that carries the infectious disease if that tick is a carrier, transmitting it to the host.

Tips if you find a tick on your dog

We've found ticks on Johann and Gracie, and on me! It's never fun, and it's always frustrating, but it happens.

We perform tick checks several times a day during tick season after spending more than a few minutes outside for a quick 'do your business.' Ticks prefer the ears, around the eyes and mouth and neck of dogs for attaching; although you may find ticks anywhere on your dog as they crawl to their preferred location.

On the rare occasion when we do find ticks, and those ticks are latched on here's, what we do:
  1. The first thing I do is work to remove the tick utilizing rounded tip tweezers (round tip tweezers actually work better for me than flat ended tweezers in getting the entire tick off). 
  2. Before I pull the tick, I actually 'tease' the tick by flipping it in one direction and then another several times, which seems to 'confuse' the tick, loosening it's grip just a bit, making it easier to remove the entire tick, head and all. I grab as close to the skin as possible where the tick is attached and pull. Using this method I've never had a situation where the tick head was left on my dog.
  3. Secondly, I put the tick in white vinegar in a jar with a lid to preserve it. I want to know after I treat my dog's bite what kind of tick I'm dealing with so that I can watch for potential symptoms of tick disease, and the white vinegar preserves the tick for days, even weeks.
  4. I then get an alcohol swab and clean the tick bite area thoroughly, and follow that up with some homeopathic Traumeel that works to fight potential infection. Then I watch the tick bite, cleaning it again every day and adding some Traumeel, until the tick bite is completely healed.
  5. I identify the tick and review the potential symptoms and diseases that that tick can potentially transmit, make a note and watch my dog carefully for any symptoms - whether it be five to seven days for Rocky Mountain (which are the ticks most prevalent in our area) or months after for Lyme.
General tips we've learned over the years to combat ticks and how to protect your dog naturally (and what do you do when natural just isn't cutting it.)

First and foremost, keep the ticks from wanting to bite!

Begin by finding an all natural method for repelling ticks by checking out some of our Raise A Green Dog Partner's products including Flea Repellant Collars and Herbal Flea Repellent Sachets from Garden Delights, and DERMagic's Flea Combo. Sometimes something as simple as these products will work for you.

If you need something stronger, what we've found that works best in repelling the ticks on Johann and Gracie are products that contain neem. While suggested by Green Paws (our go to source for evaluating tick medication and natural alternative tick product ingredients) that neem isn't the safest natural repellent on the market, it does work for us when milder natural ingredient products have not worked. And neem is much safer than the dangerous and toxic chemical preventatives in which the tick actually has to bite the dog to die.

There are several good products on the market from our RAGD Partners that contain neem  and cedarwood in safer doses including Earth Heart's Buzz Guard and Wondercide's Evolv. With both of these products, I only need to spray three or so sprays on my palm and rub on ears, legs, belly and neck of YoYo and Gracie for the products to be effective. That way I don't have to spray on them directly. I also spray their harnesses on long hikes.

Work to keep your dog's yard free of ticks! Clean up any leaf matter and mow your lawn low. Ticks don't like open dry areas and this can help dramatically in keeping your yard free of ticks.

You can also treat your yard, lawn and land with all natural methods to repel ticks. We've had a lot of success in keeping the ticks (and chiggers and fleas) out of our fenced in area in the deep forest of north Georgia, by putting down diatomaceous earth (food grade) early in the spring, and leaving it down for several, rain free days. During very rainy years like we've had this year, we've had to do this several times. But it's working.

Some individuals swear by spraying their yard with an all natural garlic spray like Garlic Barrier, and it's what we'll be utilizing if this rain keeps up! This type of application can cover acres of land and can last up to four weeks, even with rain.

After a trip to tour an organic garden a few years ago, we learned that Guinea hens are superb in keeping down a tick population on large lots of land. Once grown and safe from predators, guinea spend their days pecking away and eating ticks, fleas and chiggers, as well as other bugs and weed seed. This could be a great alternative if you have a large lot of land, and you'll only need to train your dog to leave them to their job.

Keep your home clean and sweep often. We've actually found ticks crawling around our home in the carpet that were on the dogs, but didn't like them as a host. That means the natural repellents we are using are working, but you just don't want those nasties in your home that can crawl on the humans or the kitties.

We keep areas like the couch and bed covered with a white sheet or blanket, especially during tick season. It really helps to get a better handle on what's coming off Johann and Gracie, whether it be a flea, tick, chigger, or just plain dirt.

If natural methods just aren't cutting it to keep your dog safe, you may want to turn to other methods, as we found when we lived in the mountains of Tennessee. Every single (and we used countless products) natural product we utilized when we lived in TN did not work to repel the ticks on Johann and Gracie. So, we turned to to help us determine the least traumatic chemical product and settled on Frontline spray, which worked great to keep them safer. Then as soon as possible we moved out of Tennessee to Georgia where there are many less ticks to deal with. is a fantastic site to not only determine the dangers of over the counter flea and tick medications, but it's also a great resource for us green dogs who are looking for natural, healthier methods. It lists a wide variety of natural oils and rates their potential toxicity, as many of you know even natural methods can present some dangers. It's all about weighing the risks for the health of your dog.

If you've got deer and mice or other vermin in your yard or on your land, there is a very, very good chance you've got ticks around. While deer are gorgeous creatures, every time I see a deer I cringe and think TICKS!!! Get away!!!

We hope this information is helpful to you in making more informed decisions about your dog in regards to ticks. Remember, we are not veterinarians, and the information we share is information we've discovered, learned and found that has worked for us over the years. It's always best to consult your own holistic veterinarian whenever making decisions for your dog.

If you'd like, feel free to share your all natural success stories in battling ticks, so that you may help others get more ideas that they can discuss with their holistic veterinarian.

Stay happy and healthy and enjoy the great outdoors!

Tick Populations to Explode in 2013
Dogs and Ticks
Minnesota Department of Health
Centers for Disease Control


  1. I have heard that Avon skin so soft is a good repellant. Have you heard from anyone saying they use this and their results. Actually a vet recommended it to me.

  2. Thanks Mitch and Molly!!!

    Hi Lisa - while I know a lot of people talk about using Avon Skin So Soft as a repellent, I'm not in favor of it because the ingredients include many chemicals that I wouldn't put on my own skin. I believe there are other much more natural and effective products and ingredients on the market that we would prefer. Hope that helps!

    Leslie and Johann

  3. Thanks for the great article! I'm going to print it and put it on the bulletin board for handy reference. We've only found one tick on Katie so far this year, had never had ANY in previous years, but we have deer in the back yard all the I know it's only a matter of time. And yes your article has me itching now...

  4. Thanks for the great information. I was especially interested in the idea of using guinea fowl to eat the ticks! That's such an ecologically sound idea.

    The problem in Australia is that we have a type of tick that kills the dog within days. I'm quite terrified of that idea, but luckily for me, so far they don't occur as far south as where I live.


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