Friday, May 18, 2007

Tick Season

Thursday, May 17, 2007
Tick Season Category: Pets and Animals

Does anyone out there have a tick for a friend? Anyone out there feeling a special little something for the little guys? I suppose they have to have a friend somewhere, and as kind as I am to the insect world, I haven't found my common ground with ticks. Fortunately I haven't had to deal with them for a very long time.

As a child, my father worked a Christmas tree farm seasonaly. He would grab some kids, take them out to the field, trim the trees in the summer and harvest them at Christmas. So twice a year we would go through "the routine." After coming home, mom would make them remove their outer clothes to a certain designated area, then father and son would have to sit in front of her while she ensured there were no ticks in their hair, then they would check the rest, shower, clean the clothes and the house was safe from these fearsome intruders. I was a mere observer in the process, but learned that ticks were horrible creatures. So one day when I was about 9, I was standing in the house, looked down, and there was a tick ON MY LEG!! I screamed and was immobile. I couldn't even run to my parents, the fear was so great! My brother ran down the stairs, asked what was wrong and in the "it's no big deal" gesture that a big brother can make, he swooped the tick off my leg and it met with swift justice. In our house, a tick wasn't dead unless it was burned with the edge of a match because they can grow back from the head.
Fast forward to being a young adult, newly married, with a wonderful pet-of-a-lifetime. I wanted to train her to become a search and rescue dog. In the area where we trained, there were many ticks, and many different kinds of ticks. The first trip out, there were 2 ticks on her I had to find and remove. The second trip, 5. But the third trip out did me in. Not only did I find and remove 12 ticks of all different shapes and sizes (not to mention the burs and foxtails), but then when I went to the bathroom to get a shower, I found one of them on me. It was on my arm, just under the edge of my t-shirt sleeve, hidden from view till I was in the bathroom. In the years that had passed, I had learned a few tricks. I now knew that putting a salve over them such as Vaseline would prevent air flow and they would remove their head in order to get to the air source. Of course, I couldn't find any. On to plan B - pouring isopropyl alcohol over them will cause them to pull out their head for safe removal. I awkwardly positioned my arm over the sink and began to pour. I poured on and off, rechecking the tick with no apparent change in movement. I was beginning to stress. Then I paused to think maybe it's head wasn't imbedded after all and it wouldn't hurt to try to tweeze it off. Success!! The tick pulled away quite easily in my tweezers, but now here I was with a tick and no matches. Of course, it cannot be flushed because urban legend has them crawling back up the pipes and adhering to places even harder to see. So I walk through the house, tick in tweezers, searching for a match. They have an amazing ability to squish their innards around to where they can escape tweezers. That sucker got away from me 3 times on my search. Finally I am back over the sink in the bathroom, match in hand, tick back in the tweezers and I've worked up a good and angry state of mind. I was supremely focused that this tick was not going to get away from me again! So I lit the match and POOF... the alcohol still in the basin of the sink whooshed up and singed my eyebrows and bangs. In the process, I had jumped back, flinging the tweezers with the tick to some corner of the bathroom. I spent the next 20 min on my hands and knees searching for the tick, afraid it was going to crawl in my bed at night if I didn't. Finally, behind the toilet, there was the scorched and quite dead tick.

We didn't do any more search and rescue after that.

Since then I've grown, and I think I could handle pulling off a tick without averting my head and closing my eyes. But I'd still rather not deal with them if I don't have to. We have been changing to a natural form of life for the dogs as much as possible and haven't had to use any flea/tick products yet this spring. Instead, I have diatomaceous earth and natural oils on standby when they're needed.

Just as important as trying to repel the fleas and ticks is the knowledge of the symptoms of tick-borne illnesses. These illnesses are often tricky to diagnose and when a dog has contracted one and it is usually up to the owner to track down the cause with determination to try to combat it. Here are a few pages to keep in on hand:

One of the biggest signs is the dog become quickly and mysteriously achy. Here is another list of some of the early symptoms:
low platelet counts
swollen lymph nodes
photosensitive eyes
discharge from the eyes
lameness, joint pain and swelling
recurrent diarrhea
vomiting bile
unexplained weight loss and/or loss of muscle mass
increased water consumption

Keep in mind that chronic conditions also develop when left untreated. Please see the above sites for more information.

May your summer be fun and tick-free!!


kathleen said...

Okay, I have a few questions about ticks and fleas. I'm no expert with either, because where I lived before had neither. Ticks and fleas were just not an issue. Now they are. I live in a high tick/flea area and have found no relief other than with the chemical applications that are applied to the skin. I've tried essential oils and they are only a very temporary fix. I've asked about diatomaceous earth, but most people feel it's a health risk for the respiratory system. My dog's health and comfort are VERY important to me, so I balk at the chemical preparations, but haven't found anything else very effective.

Briarwood Pups said...

The effects of DE seem to last about as long as the natural oil repellents in my experience. The first time I used it, I was very happy with the experience, but the fleas are out more in full force now. The concerns about respiratory problems are real, but manageable. DE can be dehydrating and damaging if it enters the eyes, ears or lungs. You can practice by putting some baby powder on the dog and if you can get it to where you can control the powder from getting where it shouldn't go, you'll be ready to take on DE.

But it sounds like you're kind of where we are with all this - searching for a better solution. With raw feeding, we're definitely seeing a lower attraction rate to fleas because the dogs are healthier overall. Those who have been raw feeding and utilizing natural methods for years say they have no need for flea and tick products. For those one or two of mine who seem to be scratching now, I'm also giving them yeast/garlic tablets. The odor emitted by the dog's body will repel the fleas, but there are arguments for and against garlic in the system and I don't want to use it longer than the summer season.

Overall health, diet and immunity seem to be the true answer. Until ours have their systems built to where they should be, I'll use the yeast/garlic tablets along with either DE or natural oils when needed.

When you find an answer that works for you, please feel free to share!