Guide to Preventing and Repelling Ticks
Ticks can be dangerous, but don’t be afraid to get outdoors because of them! There are ways to protect yourself and your pets! Through my experience with ticks, I’ve educated myself on how to get outdoors safely.
I partnered with Sawyer Products to walk you through everything you need to know about ticks, prevention, safe removal, and know what to look for regarding Lyme disease.
If you’re just looking for tick and mosquito-repelling solutions, scroll to the bottom.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF TICKS AND WHERE THEY LIVE
Brown Dog Tick
Transmits: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (in the southwestern U.S. and along the U.S.-Mexico border).
Additional Info: Dogs are the primary host for the brown dog tick in each of its life stages, but the tick may also bite humans or other mammals.
American Dog Tick
Found: Widely distributed east of the Rocky Mountains. They also are found in limited areas along the Pacific Coast.
Transmits: Tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Additional Info: The highest risk of being bitten occurs during spring and summer. Dog ticks are sometimes called wood ticks. Adult females are most likely to bite humans.
Found: Widely distributed across the eastern United States.
Transmits: Borrelia burgdorferi and B. mayonii which cause Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, B. miyamotoi disease (a form of relapsing fever), Babesiosis, and Powassan virus.
Additional Info: The greatest risk of being bitten exists in the spring, summer, and fall. However, adults may be out searching for a host any time winter temperatures are above freezing. Stages most likely to bite humans are nymphs and adult females.
Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
Found: Rocky Mountain states and southwestern Canada from elevations of 4,000 to 10,500 feet.
Transmits: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, and tularemia.
Additional Info: Adult ticks feed primarily on large mammals. Larvae and nymphs feed on small rodents. Adult ticks are primarily associated with pathogen transmission to humans.
Gulf Coast Tick
Found: Coastal areas of the U.S. along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
Transmits: Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis, a form of spotted fever.
Additional Info: Larvae and nymphs feed on birds and small rodents, while adult ticks feed on deer and other wildlife. Adult ticks have been associated with the transmission of R. parkeri to humans.
Lone Star Tick
Found: Widely distributed in the southeastern and eastern United States.
Transmits: Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii (which cause human ehrlichiosis), Heartland virus, tularemia, and STARI.
Additional Info: A very aggressive tick that bites humans. The adult female is distinguished by a white dot or “lone star” on her back. Lone star tick saliva can be irritating; redness and discomfort at a bite site does not necessarily indicate an infection. The nymph and adult females most frequently bite humans and transmit diseases. This tick can make you allergic to meat.
Western Blacklegged Tick
Found: Along the Pacific coast of the U.S., particularly northern California.
Transmits: Anaplasmosis and Lyme disease.
Additional Info: Nymphs often feed on lizards, as well as other small animals. As a result, rates of infection are usually low (~1%) in adults. Stages most likely to bite humans are nymphs and adult females.
HOW TO REMOVE TICKS
It’s important that you pull them out as soon as possible to reduce the chances of getting a disease that they’re carrying. When removing a tick, don’t pop it while it’s still sucking. They work like eye droppers, everything that’s inside them will end up in your or your pet’s bloodstream.
Use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull up with steady and even pressure. Don’t jerk or twist the tick. You want to make sure that the head and the mouth parts come off too. If you’re unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let your skin heal.
- Don’t crush the tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. My doctors have also recommended that after you kill the tick, to save it. Lyme disease symptoms can show up days if not weeks after the tick bite and it’s easier to test the dead tick for the disease than you.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
ABOUT TICKS SPREADING DISEASES
Even if you’re bitten by a tick, that doesn’t mean that you will get one of the diseases transmitted by ticks. Watch out for symptoms. My doctor recommended after you remove the tick, kill it and save it. So if symptoms arise, it’s often easier to test and diagnose the dead tick then you. Especially with Lyme disease.
The disease transmission rates vary by disease and the tick, but generally it’s not instant. In general, the Center for Disease Control says that if you remove a tick within 24 hours, your chances of getting Lyme disease are low. In more cases, it takes 36 to 48 hours before the Lyme disease causing bacteria can infect you.
Ticks can also spread multiple diseases at once. Since they jump from host to host, they can pick up lots of diseases along the way.
When ticks bite, it’s saliva contains an anesthesia so you won’t feel the bite. That’s why you need to check for ticks.
PREVENTING TICK BITES
Ticks camp out on grass waiting for a host to brush up against the grass and they jump on. Ticks occur year-round but they are most active during spring, summer and early fall (April-September) but adult female ticks can also infect individuals during the winter. You can get them on the trail and even in your backyard.
Deer are almost always infested with ticks. Ticks drop off deer wherever they happen to be, lawns, flower beds, etc. If you live in an area where deer visit your backyard, consider putting up a fence high enough to prevent them from entering their yard. If it’s an option, you can also remove plants that attract them such as apple, pear and cherry trees, rhododendrons, rose bushes, pansies, daisies, lilies, tulips, and black-eyed susans. Keep the grass in your yard short to reduce the risk of exposure.
- Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants, and tuck your socks into your pants so they latch onto your clothes first instead of you.
- Wearing light-colored clothing makes them easier to spot.
Wear closed-toe shoes.
- Spray yourself, your gear and your clothes down with tick repellent. Find more information on the different Sawyer products you can use and how to use them further down!
How to Check for Ticks:
- Check yourself for ticks even if you’re in the outdoors. Do a check every two to three hours.
There are some hard to see places, like your back. Have a partner, friend, roommate, or parent check you too. If you see a little freckle on your arm, look closer.
- Remove your clothes as soon as you get home so you don’t spread them inside your home. If you can change before driving, do that too, so they don’t hang out inside your car.
- Showering right when you get home can remove any ticks that haven’t attached.
- Check around your hair, in and around your ears, armpits, underarms, around the waist, belly button, groin area, behind the knees, and between the toes.
- Wash your clothes with HOT water. Ticks will survive cold and medium temperature washes. You can also put your clothes in the dryer for 10 minutes on high heat to kill ticks without having to wash your clothes.
Checking Your Pets:
- Use a tick repellent on your dog. Tick repellents come in spot-on treatments, oral, shampoo, and collars. I use a spot-on treatment on Sequoia. Since she’s constantly exposed to tall grasses and a tick filled environment, I’ve found that for her, a spot-on treatment works best. If you have concerns about which one is best for your pet, talk to a doctor. The spot on treatment lasts for a month. It soaks into their bloodstream through their skin and actively kills and repels ticks for a month.
- Check your dog for ticks after spending time outdoors. If you find one, remove it right away.
Watch your dog closely, as signs of tick-borne disease may not appear for 7 to 21 days or longer after a bite. Watch for changes in behavior and appetite, see a vet if you notice anything. Check around the eyes, in and behind the ears, under the collar, around the tail, under the front legs, between the back lets, and between their toes.
- Cats are extremely sensitive to a variety of chemicals, so do not apply a tick medication to your cat that’s not specifically designed for cats. It could be deadly to your cat. If you’re unsure, ask your vet.
- For more information on tick prevention on dogs, read my specific blog post on it.
SAWYER TICK REPELLENTS
Picaridin Insect Repellent
Sawyer’s Picaridin Insect Repellent works to deter ticks and mosquitoes, including those carrying Lyme Disease, tick-borne encephalitis, Zika, and West Nile Virus. Sawyer’s Picaridin Repellent is a synthetic replica of a proven natural solution (piperine from pepper plants) and has proven to be a potent repellent.
It comes in a spray and lotion form and comes in different sizes so it’s easy to take with you if you’re backpacking or on airplanes.
It’s an effective alternative DEET and safe to use during pregnancy. It’s considered to be the repellent of first choice by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Canadian Advisory Committee on Tropical Medicine and Travel for travelers 6 months to 12 years of age.
It’s non-greasy (which is huge for me, I hate feeling icky after putting on bug spray or sunscreen), and doesn’t smell. It also won’t damage your gear and equipment, and safe to use on clothing, backpacks, synthetic fabrics, watches, sunglasses, and shoes.
The spray will last up to 12 hours and the lotion will last up to 14 hours against ticks and mosquitoes. Both the spray and lotion form will also provide up to 8 hours of protection against biting flies, gnats, chiggers, and sand flies.
Permethrin Pump Spray: Insect Repellent
In addition to protecting your skin from ticks, I spray down my gear with Sawyer’s Permethrin Pump Spray. I sprayed down my backpacking and car camping tents, all of my backpacks, hiking clothing (pants, shirts, socks, jackets), and hiking boots. You can use it on all of your outdoor gear and even your pup! I’ve also used it at home on my screen doors and windows to prevent mosquitoes.
In addition to repelling ticks and mosquitoes, it also kills them. It also works on spiders, chiggers, mites, and more than 55 other kinds of insects. Including ticks carrying Lyme Disease.
Once applied it’s completely odorless. One application lasts for 6 weeks (42 days) or 6 washes. It’s effective on dogs for 35 days. Permethrin is non-toxic and registered for use by the U.S. EPA.
You spray down your gear in a well-ventilated area (with gloves on), let it dry for at least 2 hours and you’re good to go. To apply, spray Permethrin directly onto clothing and gear with a slow sweeping motion, keeping the bottle about 6 to 8 inches away and treating each side of the garment for about 30 seconds.
Keep in mind, this spray shouldn’t be used on your skin, and permethrin is dangerous to cats but safe for dogs. Once it’s dry, it’s safe for cats, but don’t spray your gear with cats around and don’t use it on your cat.
Here’s a video with more details on how to use the spray on your gear and dog.
Controlled Release Insect Repellent
This is a DEET solution to tick and mosquito repellents. Sawyer’s Controlled Release Insect Repellent is odorless, non-greasy, and sweat/water resistant. It comes in a lotion form, is safe to use on the whole family (kids and adults alike) and effective up to 11 hours.
Encapsulating its EPA-approved 20% DEET formula in a protein that dissolves slowly, Controlled Release lotion releases DEET over a longer period of time — reducing the rate of DEET absorption by 67% per application and extending the duration of its effectiveness.
This is a good and effective option for anyone who is concerned about DEET exposure. Since the formula ensures that only a minimal amount of DEET is ever on the skin at any one time for possible absorption. It’s ideal for anyone who needs to constantly reapply.
You can get Sawyer’s Controlled Release Insect Repellent from REI.
SYMPTOMS OF LYME DISEASE AND TREATMENTS
If you’re bitten by a tick, once you pull it out then kill it, save the dead tick. If you develop any symptoms, it’s easier to test a dead tick for Lyme Disease and other diseases than a live you.
There are around 329,000 new cases of Lyme Disease reported annually and it grows yearly. It’s also profoundly under-reported and some people don’t even know they have it, and it’s very hard to diagnose (this is why you save the tick).
The good news is that if you’re treated right away with antibiotics, most people have a good prognosis. But the longer you wait for treatment, the harder it becomes to treat. Just within a few days of the bite, the bacteria can move into your central nervous system, muscles, joints, eyes, and hearts.
Everyone reacts to Lyme Disease differently, but here are the most common symptoms. If you see any of these symptoms after a tick bite or are generally concerned, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
- Rashes – the signature rash of Lyme Disease after a tick bite is a red bulls eye rash. It can show up anywhere on your body. It will have a central red circle or oval, circled with a clear circle and then a wide red circle on the outside. It usually doesn’t itch. The rash appears within 3 to 30 days of the bite. Photograph it and see your doctor ASAP.
- Fatigue – this is a common symptom for different diseases, but early symptoms will be flu-like including fatigue.
- Achy, stiff, or swollen joints – you might have pain when moving around, your knees may hurt, you may have a limited range of motion, and your joints may be inflamed.
- Headaches, dizziness, fever – another flu-like symptom. 50% of people with Lyme Disease report having flu-like symptoms within a week.
- Night sweats and sleep disturbances – joint pain, night sweats and night chills may wake you.
- Cognitive decline – you may have a hard time focusing and your memory may have lapses.
- Light sensitivity and vision changes – bright lights, even indoors may feel uncomfortable and you may need sunglasses even indoors.
- Skin outbreaks – unexplained rashes or large bruises.
- Neurological problems – you might feel like you’re having problems with balance and coordinating your movements.
- Heart problems – Lyme bacteria can invade your heart and cause a condition called Lyme carditis which can range from mild to severe. You might experience chest pains, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or heart palpitations.
- Mood changes – you may be more irritable, anxious, or depressed.
For more questions on Lyme Disease, see your doctor.
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Love your articles!
I’ve heard essential oils can dissuade ticks. Do you know which kind?
I personally haven’t used essential oils. I spray my gear with permethrin, use picaridin as bug repellent on my skin, and do a skin check when I get home from a trip.