Keep Your Pets Safe From Lyme Disease

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Even in Fall, ticks are active. Lyme Research Alliance shares eight chemical-free ways to protect the pets you love.

Marcie Fallek, DVM with Destiny (l) and Savannah (r)

The EPA is pursuing a series of actions to increase the safety of spot-on products

Just because Labor Day has come and gone doesn’t mean your pets are safe from disease-carrying ticks. Actually, fall is when adult ticks are most active, so it’s important to stay vigilant to keep your pet tick-free. But with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) evidence that liquid tick repellent products can be harmful to dogs and cats, many pet owners are looking for natural, non-toxic ways to protect their pets from Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.

Recently, Lyme Research Alliance (formerly Time for Lyme) checked with the EPA and a variety of animal experts about what pet owners should do to keep pets safe from ticks. According to the EPA, many bottled tick-and-flea repellents can cause everything from mild skin irritation and hair loss to seizures and even death in cats and dogs. As a result, the agency is “pursuing a series of actions to increase the safety of spot-on products” (those applied to the neck or back of dogs and cats), says Dale Kemery, an EPA spokesperson. So what to do in the meantime? Here are steps to take to make sure your pets live a healthy tick-free life:

Brush your pet before heading outside. Marcie Fallek, DVM, a Fairfield, CT holistic veterinarian, says that from March through October she shaves her two long-haired collie mixes. “It’s easier to find ticks that way,” she says. If you don’t want to shave your dog now that it’s September, brush your pet thoroughly before you go out to get rid of excess hair. You’ll find it’s easier to check for ticks when you return home.

Avoid “high-risk” zones. Dogs love to romp in high grass where the ever intrepid and terribly tiny ticks can be found. Scores of ticks that carry Lyme disease, bartonella and other infections can also live under layers of fallen leaves and in wood piles. Keep lawns mowed and edges trimmed, remove piles of leaves and the remains of summer plants or other debris from flower beds, and try to stack wood in racks in a dry location rather than next to or against your house. Also try to keep your dog away from bushes that are not pruned.

Watch what you use. A number of spot-on products for dogs contain permethrin, a common insecticide. However small breed dogs that weigh between 10 and 20 pounds and cats are susceptible to the products. A recent EPA study found that many of the chemicals found in the treatments can seep into household dust creating an unhealthy environment for your pets. “Exposure to even small quantities of permethrin can cause severe and fatal poisoning in cats,” says Tina Wismer, DVM, veterinary toxicologist at the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center.

Go herbal. There are a host of home remedies to repel ticks--from placing cedar chips around the perimeter of a lawn to applying tea tree oil around the yard. However the consensus on the most effective herbal tick repellent for use on dogs is one containing rose geranium essential oil, which can be applied on a dog’s collar every week. Do not apply the essential oil directly to a dog’s skin or get it near its eyes since it can cause irritation. And do not use this on cats. They can have a bad reaction to essential oils, notes Petmd.com.

Read labels. If you use a spot-on product, read the label carefully. Use products on the animal specified by the product label---for example, dog products for dogs only and cat products for cats only--and the least amount possible. That may sound obvious, but many spot-on products for dogs are used unknowingly by cat owners. Also, never use products designed for humans on your pets, particularly if the product contains DEET---it’s highly toxic to pets.

Put a halt to “tick taxis.” Dogs are often called “tick taxis” because a tick can ride into your home on your pet’s body and move on to another pet or to you. “Inspect your dog carefully when you return home,” says Dr. Fallek. Pay particular attention to your pet’s ears, around its eyes and eyelids, muzzle, and paws (including in between toes) where ticks “like to hitch a ride,” she says. Run your fingers through the dog’s fur. Work your fingers down to the skin so you don’t miss any small bumps that might be a tick trying to hide. While the ticks stay attached, they are continuing to feed on your pet’s blood.

Try not to stress. It’s not hard to remove a tick. However, according to PawNation.com it’s best to put on a pair of gloves so you’ll never have direct contact with bacteria the tick could harbor. To remove the bloodsucker, use a fine-tipped tweezer to grasp the tick as close to your pet’s skin as possible. Slowly and gently, with continuous pressure, pull the tick straight up and out. Be careful not to squeeze the tick. Do not twist or jerk the tick because you may leave its head (or part of its head) under your pet’s skin. After removing the tick, kill it by dropping it into a jar of rubbing alcohol. Cleanse the site of your pet’s bite with a first aid antiseptic, then wash your hands thoroughly.

Keep your home tick-free. In the house, vacuum frequently (especially the places near dog resting spots and folds in furniture). It’s also a good idea to wash pet bedding once a week, with hot water and a mild, ideally eco-friendly, detergent. Remember that 10 minutes in the dryer using the hot setting will kill all ticks on clothing or bedding, even when you don’t have time to do a full wash. Bathing your dog also helps to remove ticks if they aren’t already feeding on your pet.

If you are concerned about any tick products you may be using, the National Resources Defense Council checked the listed ingredients of more than 100 tick and flea products and found that many contain toxic chemicals. You can find less toxic treatments and chemical-free care at NRDC’s Green Paws Flea and Tick Products Directory,
http://www.simplesteps.org/greenpaws-products.
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Lyme Research Alliance, Inc., formerly Time for Lyme, is a Connecticut-based 501(c) (3) non-profit organization whose mission is to fund cutting-edge research into Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. Lyme Research Alliance has raised over $5 million since its founding in 1998, and provided primary funding to establish the Columbia University Medical Center’s Lyme and Tick-borne Disease Research Center in New York City. On the Web at http://www.lymeresearchalliance.org

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Peter Wild

Rona Cherry
Rona Cherry Associates
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