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Natural remedies for tick prevention and treatment in dogs

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QUESTION:

My dog loves to run into the bushes when out walking, but I’m worried about ticks. Are there any good natural options for preventing tick bites? And what should I do if I find one on him?

S.S., via email

ANSWER: 

Ticks are tiny eight-legged blood-sucking parasites that live in wooded areas and fields. They bite both humans and animals and are mainly active from March to mid-May and again between mid-August and November. They tend to be quiet in the peak of summer and in freezing temperatures. 

Ticks tend to attach to hairy areas and then start sucking blood. After a period of 10 days, an engorged tick may reach the size of a marble and then fall off or detach. 

While most tick bites are harmless, some can trigger allergic reactions, and some can carry Lyme disease and other infections such as anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. 

Dogs tend to have a bigger problem with ticks than cats, as they are less aware of the ticks on them. Cats, being perpetual groomers, usually get rid of ticks quickly.

How and where to check for ticks

Ticks can cause diseases like Lyme disease only if they remain attached to your dog’s body for around 48 hours. It’s therefore very important to check your dog for ticks after every walk or trip outside during tick season.

The following areas seem to be tick favorites, so check them thoroughly:

Head and ears. As dogs tend to bury their heads in vegetation while sniffing around, ticks can easily latch onto them, especially on the outside of the ears. If your dog has upright ears, ticks may also find their way into the insides of the ears. 

Search the top of the head, too. If your dog is shaking his ears and head or pawing at them, it’s a sign that there is something stuck there, so perform a full search of those areas by running your hand through the hair and then parting it. You can also use a flea comb to search for ticks.

Toes and tail. Ticks can easily hide between dogs’ toes and on the underside of the tail, especially if they are hairy. Your dog may lick and bite the area if there’s a tick, or it may go unnoticed. Make sure you check these areas thoroughly.

Groin and armpits. Both these areas are nice and dark—great places for ticks to lodge and go unseen. As most dog owners do not pay attention to their pet’s genitals, it’s easy to miss ticks hidden in the groin covered by your dog’s coat and tail. Make sure to check both these areas by making your dog lie on his back.

Eyelids and neck. Many dog owners miss ticks near the eyes or on eyelids, assuming they are skin tags, warts or cysts. So be sure to look closely; use a magnifying glass if you’re unsure. Ticks can easily hide under your dog’s collar, so remove the collar after a walk and look underneath for ticks.

How to remove a tick

There are several tick removing tools and gadgets available. A simple pair of tweezers can do the job as long as you use good technique, which is to grab the tick as close to your pet’s skin as possible and then pull away gently and slowly but firmly. The specialized tools use a twisting motion that’s said to remove the tick by the head more effectively.

Most of the time you will be able to get the entire tick out, including the head. If the tick is alive, drop it in a small jar of rubbing alcohol/spirits. If you prefer, you can smother the tick with alcohol and suffocate it before you pull it out, as its grip will not be tight once dead. Don’t panic if you end up leaving the head behind; it will fall out eventually over time. 

First aid for a tick bite

Apply any antiseptic or insect bite cream you may have on hand to the spot to soothe and treat the inflammation or tick bite reaction.

For a natural treatment, use a comfrey ointment (widely available online) or tea tree oil. Dilute a few drops of tea tree oil in 1 oz (30 mL) of distilled water and dab onto the area with a cotton ball. 

Ensure your dog does not lick it off for at least 15 minutes, and avoid in cats.

Natural ways to prevent ticks

Garlic. Ticks and fleas detest the garlic compounds that are secreted through the skin when your dog eats garlic, so feed a small amount of the herb to your pet regularly. Feeding too much can be dangerous, but small amounts are safe and will help repel ticks.

Suggested dosage: ¼ to ½  teaspoon of fresh crushed garlic mixed into food for small dogs, and 1 tsp daily for large dogs

Apple cider vinegar.  This works by making your dog’s blood less desirable to ticks, so they will stop sucking and hopefully fall off.

Suggested dosage: add 1-2 tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar to your dog’s food daily

Essential oils. Tick repellents made from essential oils are widely available and can be effective. Try Nature’s Protection Flea & Tick Herbal Bug Spray by Earth Animal or Flea and Bug Repellent Spritz by WildWash PRO. Alternatively, you can make your own. See the box above for a simple recipe.

Diatomaceous earth.  This food-grade powder, made of ground fossils and aquatic organisms, is harmless for dogs but lethal to ticks and fleas. You can apply it directly to your dog’s skin and use it on furniture and bedding too.

Tick powders and shampoos. Most tick-repelling powders and shampoos use a combination of diatomaceous earth, neem and yarrow. Try Dr Mercola Diatomaceous Earth with Neem or 4Legger Revitalize Dog Shampoo.

You can make your own tick-repelling shampoo by adding a few drops of palo santo essential oil to a lavender-based natural dog shampoo. Soak your dog in it and then rinse off.

Echinacea.  The herb Echinacea (both E. purpurea and E. angustifolia) may be helpful, as it’s known to strengthen the immune system. You can feed Echinacea to your dog to help him fight any tick-borne diseases, even after being bitten. 

Nature’s Answer makes an Echinacea and goldenseal tincture that can be diluted in water and fed to your dog. You can also give the human dose equivalent of Echinacea capsules or powder to large dogs (over 50 lb/23 kg), half the human dose to medium dogs and a quarter of the human dose to small dogs (less than 15 lb/7 kg). 

Peak Immune Tincture from Glacier Peak Holistics is an herbal tincture containing Echinacea, astragalus, oatstraw, Siberian ginseng and alfalfa that can be given at the start of tick season to prepare your dog.

Nematodes.  You can buy beneficial nematodes that feed on tick larvae from a garden center or online, and spread them in your yard or garden to prevent ticks. 

DIY tick repellants

Try these essential oil remedies for dogs to keep ticks away.

Cedar citronella tick repellant spray

Ingredients:

Cedarwood essential oil

Citronella essential oil

Rubbing alcohol

Directions:

1) Mix equal amounts of the essential oils and combine with rubbing alcohol in a 1:10 dilution.

2) Shake and apply a small amount on your dog’s neck and legs just before you head outside.

Rose geranium tick repellant spray

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp almond oil

2–3 drops rose geranium essential oil

Directions:

1) Mix the rose geranium oil with the almond oil.

2) Apply a few drops on your dog’s neck or collar before you go out.

Top tips

Clear the bushes. Keeping your lawn short and clearing underbrush can help keep ticks away, as they tend to live one to two feet from ground level in shrubs and grass.

Get your dog tested. An annual test for tick-borne diseases is a good idea.

Consider chemicals. If you live in an area full of deer or tend to hike with your dog in tick-friendly areas, you may have to use chemical products recommended by your vet (for example, Frontline products) in combination with natural remedies, as Lyme disease can be fatal.

 

Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT

Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House UK, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com

Article Topics: Dog, Lyme disease, tick
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