Spring has left us and summer has sprung up in it’s place. With the changing of the seasons brings in the flood of the dreaded ticks. Many of us love to spend time outdoors, especially with our four-legged family members, but this can be a potentially hazardous activity not only for our pets, but for those of us who are worried about becoming infected or re-infected. There are many ways to prevent and reduce tick infestations on our pets, including dogs, cats, and horses.
First and foremost, keep your dogs indoors as much as possible. This is safer for your dog for many reasons, but especially when it comes to tick (and flea) infestations. The more time your dog(s) spends outdoors, the greater the likelihood they will harbor parasites. Keeping your yard tidy is also key, even if your dog is primarily an indoor dog; they obviously still need to go outside. If you have a grassy lawn, keep it mowed as short as possible and do not ever let it get long. Mowing once a week is plenty, especially during the summer months when grass growth is minimal. If you keep wood stacked in your yard, it is also important to keep it orderly and neat and make it as unappealing to rodents as possible. Rodents are another common host to ticks and other potentially dangerous parasites. If your property borders a heavily wooded area or a neighbor’s messy yard, keep a perimeter of gravel, wood chips, or decomposed granite. Also, keep tree branches, shrubs, and bushes trimmed up and tidy so your pets do not brush up against them and pick up ticks . There are commercially available pesticides that are safe to use. These are most effective if used in the spring/early summer on your yard and include products such as bifenthrin. Products containing bifenthrin come in many forms, including sprays, granules, and aerosolized sprays . Lastly, do not attract deer into your yard! Yes, they are beautiful, but they harbor a very large population of ticks. When you are considering landscaping and gardening, choose plants that do not attract deer, and keep your yard fenced if possible and at least make your plants unavailable to the local deer population using deer netting.
In terms of direct protection for your dogs, many products are on the market and are all available either from your veterinarian or local pet supply store. Frontline and Advantix are two of the most popular brands that are available without a prescription from your veterinarian. They are sold at PetSmart, Petco, and most other large pet retailers. Frontline’s active ingredients are fipronil and s-methoprene, and Advantix utilizes imidacloprid. There are other options, but most other topical applications also prevent heartworm disease, and therefore require an annual prescription from your veterinarian as your dog MUST be negative for heartworms before being treated with these products. Frontline and Advantix are topically applied every month, and are great products if you and your dogs are exposed to ticks frequently. If you and your dogs rarely venture out into grassy or wooded areas and you are hesitant to use a monthly preventative, Frontline does come in a diluted spray-form (available at a good price at Amazon.com) which can be utilized as needed. It has the same active ingredient as the more concentrated topical application.
As with dogs, the first mode of defense with cats is to keep them as indoor pets. This is safer for cats in general and better for local wildlife populations. Cats love to climb, scratch, and scurry and they pose a very high risk of tick transmission to their owners. Because it is nearly impossible to safely contain outdoor cats in a “tick-safe” zone, having a pet cat that is both indoors and outdoors is a risky venture. If you must keep your cats as indoor/outdoor pets, I would suggest using a monthly preventative treatment. Frontline, composed of fipronil and s-methoprene is the most commercially available product that does not require a prescription from a veterinarian.
If your horse is kept in a stall or a stall/paddock, their risk of harboring ticks is relatively low. For those who keep their horses in outdoor grassy pastures, however, this is a whole different story, especially this year with such a dense tick population. There are products available at local feed stores that are applied similarly to Frontline and Advantix (topical monthly applications), however I have found these to be ineffective against tick infestations. I have owned horses for fifteen years, and have found that Frontline Spray (as mentioned above in the dogs section) is the most effective form of tick prevention in equines. Although it is not directly prescribed or labeled for use in horses, many veterinarians are recommending it to their clients. It is used most effectively on clean, dry horses every 3-4 weeks. Spray it evenly along the back of the cannon bones on both front and hind legs, the abdomen, flanks, and muzzle and along the underside of their cheeks and jaw. If there are low hanging trees in your horse’s pasture, also apply some along the dorsal aspect of their back. I also apply the Frontline spray to the bottom of my jeans and boots to act as a repellant if I have to venture into the pasture to catch my horses or if I go trail riding. I recommend riding in an arena (if you have access to one) versus the trails during this time of year. If you do go trail riding, stay on the trails instead of through the tall grass.
These are suggestions from an experienced pet owner, but as always please consult your veterinarian before utilizing any type of pesticide control on your pets, and always follow instructions on the labels and from your veterinarian.
Have fun and be safe with your pets. Ticks may pose a threat to both our health and the health of our furry friends, but by practicing and adhering to safety protocols, you can still enjoy the outdoors with your pets and reduce the risk of infection at the same time.
1. Preventing Ticks in the Yard. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2011.
2. Bifenthrin. National Pesticide Resource Center 2012.