Warm weather is almost upon us, which means tick season looms on the horizon.
Use whatever you want for flea and tick protection.
What I use is pretty old-school: grocery-store brought pyrethrin-based dog shampoo.
My dogs are in forest and field a lot, and they generally need baths after being underground. I generally wash my dogs every week from April through November.
I am wary of all the newer flea and tick treatments. Most have been very poorly tested and negative outcomes are legion. As for veterinarians, they generally know less about fleas and ticks than I do, and their opinions are clouded by their desire for profit. As I wrote a while back:
A huge chunk of veterinary pharmacology is dedicated to getting you to NOT use cheap, over-the-counter flea, tick and heart worm treatments like simple pyrethrin-based shampoos (pyrethrin is so safe it is FDA-approved for food plants) and low-cost ivermectin.
To be clear, I am OK with folks using whatever they want, but I always advise caution with newer branded medications, whether for humans or for dogs. Cox-2 drugs like Vioxx have not proven more effective than Cox-1 drugs like aspirin, but they did leave over 20,000 Americans dead. Whoops!
The latest heads up in the world of dogs is Trifexis, a two-year old flea and heart worm preventative that is already linked to 7,000 dog deaths and an estimated 30,000 illnesses. Do these numbers mean Trifexis is the culprit, or that Trifexis is going to harm your dog? No. Remember that all animals present with a wide variety of reactions to everything, and as a consequence honey bees kill more people in this country than terrorists. That said, is Trifexis a medication I would stay away from for now? It is.
I am a firm believer that the single best remedy for ticks and fleas is the human eye, combined with a good flea comb, and a flea bath after taking your dog into the field.
Fleas and ticks are a real problem for terrier men, as most dens have fleas in them, and seed ticks are particularly tough to get rid of -- you will need to dip the dog in a pyrethrin dip several times if you are unlucky enough to get into a mess of these.
What's a seed tick? Well, to answer that, let's go over the lifespan of a dog tick.
American Dog Ticks are known as "three-host ticks," because they have three different host animals in their lifetime.
First, the larva hatch out from the eggs, which may have been deposited in a den frequented by fox, raccoon, possum or groundhogs. Larvae only have six legs, like an insect, and are white. The larva will stay on the ground or climb up a plant or shrub to wait for a host to pass by. The larva will wait with their front claws outstretched to grab the first small mammal that comes by -- at this stage it is called a "Questing Tick." The first animal to go by is is usually a mouse, rabbit, squirrel, or chipmunk. The larva will drink its fill of blood on this first host animal (a period of about four days) and then drop off.
Next the larva will shed its skin and become a larger eight-legged nymph tick. These nymph ticks are still very small, and will look for a new host which is likely to be another small mammal such as a possum, raccoon, groundhog or fox. Once the nymph has grabbed on to a new host, it will again drink more blood (this time for a period of about six days) before it drops off again and molts a second time.
During this third stage of a tick's life, male and female ticks will look for a larger mammal to serve as a host. This mammal might be a raccoon, possum, fox, skunk, woodchuck, deer, dog, or even human. The male will not feed at this terminal stage of its life cycle, but will mate with the female as she feeds on the host animal. After mating, the male will die and the female tick will engorge herself before dropping off the host animal to lay her eggs -- as many as 4,000 of them -- on the ground.
If an impregnated female tick falls off a groundhog, fox, raccoon or possum while it is in an earth den, the larva may hatch out with thousands of little white tick larvae waiting to latch on to your dog.
These "seed tick" infestations will require several flea and tick dips, and very systematic work with a flea comb, to clear from a dog's fur follicles. They are hard to get off!