And I hate them. I loathe these weird, disease-ridden, blood-gorging, leg-climbing creepy stalkers.
I didn’t worry much about ticks when I was little. I played in the woods, rolled around in the grass, and found one latched to me from time to time, but it wasn’t a big deal.
Either the times have changed or I have changed. Maybe it’s both…
Up here in the north we hear about Lyme disease all the time. And rightfully so. Not to mention the other tick-borne illness that are starting to become more commonplace. Some people get Lyme Disease and then get over it quickly with no long-term affects. But then there are those that suffer for a lifetime.
As a natural medicine practitioner I have seen many patients with Lyme disease. People who have struggled for years and years with debilitating, life-changing symptoms all because of one little bug. Brain fog, intense joint pain, headaches, stomach pain, fatigue, fever… for some people it’s like having a permanent flu that they can’t shake.
And because of this, Lyme disease is something that absolutely terrifies me.
In order to protect ourselves against ticks and the diseases they carry, we take our knowledge of their biology and physiology and use it against them! Here on the homestead we have 19 acres, and we want to be able to enjoy every piece of it without worry.
Ticks don’t fall from trees or jump on us, instead they do something called “questing.” That is, they climb to the top of a blade of grass or weed and stick their front legs up in the air, just waiting for a victim to brush by that they can grab on to.
Find one on your head? He crawled there. And the thought of this makes me shudder.
On their front pair of legs, ticks have what are called Haller’s Organs, which can detect smell (especially ammonia), temperature change, movement, and carbon dioxide. This is how they know you’re coming.
We also know that they like warmth and moisture- both in their outdoor habitat, and on you.
Smell & Repellents
Do you have bad body odor or breath? The stronger the smell, the easier for ticks to know their next meal is on its way. That goes for your pets too.
Since chemical (smell) detection is such a strong sense for ticks, one that they rely on heavily, we can derail them here.
A “natural tick repellent,” this is an all natural alternative to deet-based sprays and other harsh chemical repellents. This is for dogs and humans only, as sources say it can be toxic for cats. I couldn’t find credible information regarding this oil for horses.
There are two main species of Rose Geranium oil available, the one with the botanical name Pelargonium capitatum x radens is what you are looking for to repel ticks —> Find it here! Rose Geranium oil under the name Pelargonium graveolens is not the same exact thing, and it is more common- so read your label carefully.
All of the individual accounts I have read of people using this oil on themselves and their dogs have been remarkably positive. I couldn’t find any info on the exact mechanism of how this works, but my guess is that it does one of two things: either repels ticks, meaning that they find the scent offensive and it makes them withdraw their legs and not exhibit questing activity, or it scrambles their sensors and makes them unable to detect you or your dog nearby.
Full Strength Oil
Some oils need to be diluted, but Rose Geranium does not. Try a drop between your dog’s shoulder blades and one at the top of the base of tail. Put a drop on your wrists and behind your knees.
Alternatively, you could even put a drop or two directly on your dog’s collar. Or try a clay diffuser pendant and attach it to their collar. It is a clay pendant that holds and diffuses essential oils and is usually worn as a necklace.
Or, you can make a Rose Geranium body spray by combining 8oz distilled water with 2 Tbs witch hazel or vodka and 10-30 drops of Rose Geranium Essential Oil (depending on your preferred strength and apparent effectiveness). Just spritz your dog’s legs, belly, or neck! Spritz it on your lower body where ticks are likely to try and grab you.
You could even make a dog shampoo or body lotion for yourself with this essential oil.
Other Essential Oils
People have used citrus, peppermint, cedar wood, eucalyptus and other oils for tick repellent as well.
Before you choose one or a combination of these, make sure you know: 1. if and how much it needs to be diluted, and 2. if it is safe for the critter you are using it on. Just because it is safe for you, doesn’t mean it is for your cat or horse.
Make a custom essential oil body spray using the directions above, but tailored in a way you like. If it doesn’t seem effective, tweak it and keep trying until you find a winner. There are a lot of variables that can affect how ticks react to different scent repellents. The species of tick and its gender, its age and the habitat in which it is found, plus your personal scent will all influence the effectiveness of your custom body spray.
Already Made Tick Repellents
And if the thought of homemaking anything scares you more than the thought of ticks crawling up your body, well then try these already made natural scent based tick-repellent products:
For Both Humans & Dogs:
Turtle Moon’s Nature’s Cloak- eucalyptus, lavender, rose geranium, african sage, and blue cypress.
I like the idea of scented wipes for a cat, as my cat is known to run at the sight of a spray bottle!
Always be careful when using a new body product for the first time, as people and pets can be sensitive to things, even if they are natural or organic. Put some on a small test spot and wait 24 hours to make sure there are no skin reactions.
A very easy way for ticks get into the house. Dogs and cats are an easy meal for ticks. If you have cats or dogs that spend time both indoors and outdoors, you have to protect them in order to protect yourself. Your fur-coated, low to the ground, happy go-lucky pup is the perfect target.
Try some of the homemade or pre-made sprays, balms and wipes mentioned above in order to repel ticks from your pets. Also keep in mind that every product might not work on every pet; if you try one that just doesn’t seem to be effective, try a different product or a different application technique.
While it is likely these won’t repel every single tick every single time, even if you see some reduction, it is still worth it.
Does your dog reek?
Well, give it a bath.
Remember, ticks operate largely on smell and this is a great opportunity to repel them.
Diet is Important
Also consider the power in feeding your cat or dog a species-appropriate diet. That is, a meat-based kibble or raw food diet, not a corn, soy or gluten-based diet. This can absolutely have an affect on their smell, and not to mention their health (and therefore ability to fight a Lyme or other tick-borne infection if one should present itself). Plus, parasites are often attracted to weakened hosts. Make your dog or cat the strongest and healthiest it can be!
Cats are Trickier
They are more sensitive to tick repellents, even natural ones. They can’t handle a lot of the essential oils that dogs can. Which I believe is why all of the sprays approved for cats only contain lemongrass and cinnamon oils, and in weaker dilutions than some of the sprays for dogs or humans only.
For every source that said an essential oil was okay for cats, another source said it was not. Which is why I don’t have a recommendations for making your own tick repellent spray for cats. For cats, it is probably safer to to find a tested, pre-made spray that is known to be safe.
Outdoor cats really shouldn’t wear collars, as they are prone to getting them caught and hanging themselves, so anything attached to a collar won’t work either.
Fortunately cats are smaller and therefore take less time do a tick-check.
Diatomaceous Earth to Kill Ticks
Diatomaceous Earth is the fossilized remains of tiny sea creatures, ground into a very fine powder. It safely and effectively kills a lot of different insects, ticks reportedly included. Diatomaceous Earth is both abrasive and will scratch insects, plus it absorb the protective lipid layer from their exoskeleton, causing them to dehydrate and die.
This would be perfect for applying to an already infested animal- whether house pets or livestock. Or consider using weekly as a tick clean up for your dog or cat. Use a spice jar with shaker top, old baby powder bottle, or this nifty diatomaceous earth applicator. Shake a decent amount on to the animal and use your hand to rub it in down to the skin. Don’t get it in their eyes. Leave it on them and let it go to work. One person reported applying this at night and finding a dog bed full of dead ticks in the morning.
You can even sprinkle this in the dog house or dog’s bedding.
Need to Know:
Only buy food-grade Diatomaceous Earth.
Minimize dust when using, as inhaling too much can cause lung irritation or other problems.
It is completely safe for animals (and humans) to touch, and even eat.
It only works when dry, not wet.
I’d apply it outside, as it will get messy!
Check, Check, and Recheck
No matter what type tick-repellent you use, whether natural or otherwise, you must check your pets for ticks every single day. It is part of being a responsible pet owner.
Make sure to check around your cat’s ears and face, especially the eyes. If there is one place that tiny, Lyme-infested ticks love to bite, it is the eyelids. Ick. And don’t forget under the dog’s collar!
Ticks Sleeping in Your Bed
If your dog or indoor-outdoor cat is sleeping in your bed, I would urge you to reconsider. They may give you the guilt trip of a lifetime for kicking them out of their favorite cozy spot, but they will be get over in a couple days, and you’ll be much better off.
If you live in an area with a high rate of Lyme Disease, allowing your pet to sleep in your bed is just too risky. The ticks that are most likely to transmit Lyme Disease are so small that you are highly likely to miss them during a tick-check.
Ticks crawling off your dog and on to your inner thighs, arm pits, and neck in middle of the night sounds like the making of a good horror movie, agree?
Habitats & Hosts
Part of the battle is keeping ticks away in the first place. There are things you can do to prevent them from even wanting to be on your property and in your business.
This is a tough one for us homesteaders and farmers, as we tend to keep a lot of animal feed and outdoor structures that mice just love. Mice don’t only help along the tick’s lifecycle, but they are often responsible for producing infected ticks. Many sources agree that ticks are generally born pathogen-free, and it is only when they feed on a reservoir host, commonly the white-footed mouse, that they pick up the Lyme bug and other diseases.
So, get rid of the mice! Don’t leave open feed out. Don’t let feed sit out overnight, as in, only give your pets what they will eat in the daytime. Consider a long-term mouse trapping solution like a water-trap (look up “mouse bucket trap,” if you’re not familiar). Increase and encourage your barn cat population, and make them earn their keep!
Don’t keep brush piles. Keep your wood pile as tidy as possible and with the fewest mice-hiding spots as you can. Sheds and other outbuildings, especially those that are cluttered make great mouse-homes.
The threat of mice isn’t necessarily that they transport ticks (well, it is), but more so that they are a host for tick-born disease. Even when mice aren’t in your general living areas they are still a threat because they are coming in contact with other animals that are likely crossing through in closer proximity to you (and dropping ticks around). So, consider deterring mice in the biggest area around your homestead that you can.
Don’t let your yard get away from you. Especially if this is the place where your pets and your children play. Hire the neighbor kid to mow every week if you have to.
Keeping the grass cut short makes it harder for ticks to “quest” and find you.
Consider making a short-grass-safe-zone for your kids, or even your dog and train them to stay in it.
Yard Borders & Other Vegetation
Unless you have lots of unkempt grass with fun hiding spots, ticks generally aren’t in the middle of your groomed lawn. They need shade and moisture and something decent to quest on, which they often find where wooded areas meet grass.
Consider creating a border of rock or wood chips between your yard, the places where your family spends their time and the woods. This is a great reminder for family members to stay in the reduced-tick zone and not to wander to the edge of the woods.
Trim back overhanging trees, especially those in areas that are traveled by humans and animals. This will allow more sunlight in, encourage drying of the ground beneath, and discourage ticks.
A leaf pile is like a tick motel. Get rid of ‘em as soon as you rake ‘em.
Ticks are strongly attracted to the scent of ammonia. Animal trails = animal urine. Animal urine = ammonia. Ticks know that they are likely to find plenty of host animals if they stay close to well-traveled critter paths.
Discourage deer from traveling through your property with fences or undesirable plants. Put bird feeders where deer can’t stand under them to clean up the dropped goods. Consider using several Nite-Guards: solar powered red lights that are activated at dark and scare away deer and other animals. Block trails and encourage the animals to go another way, away from your property.
There are mixed reports of whether or not chickens, guinea hens, ducks, and turkey will decrease your tick population. I haven’t seen any scientific studies that say either way, but have heard plenty of positive personal accounts.
My opinion is that they definitely will! That is, only if they are truly free-ranging. For the four years that my parents had 12-18 free-ranging Rhode Island Reds, we absolutely noticed less ticks on ourselves and pets.
Need another reason to convince your significant other to get a couple backyard chickens? This may be it! Wondering what breeds of chickens are best for tick control? Any of them. Chickens were made to eat bugs. It’s what they do.
Guinea hens are probably regarded as the absolute best tick hunters. So if you need serious help, consider a flock of those.
If you find a tick on your head or upper body, it is because it climbed all the way up there, not because it dropped on you.
The Pant Tuck
We almost never go out to do work at the outskirts of the yard or woods without tucking our pants into our socks. This way when a tick attaches to your lower leg, it can’t crawl up inside your clothes, and you’ll be more likely to spot it on the move on your outerwear.
Plus, it just looks cool.
We never wear shorts when doing work in the yard, hiking, or foraging in the woods. Yes, even in the middle of summer.
Also keep in mind that ticks like warmth and moisture. On their journey up the inside of your pant leg, while you’re working out in the hot sun, they are likely to settle into the first warm spot they find. And if that image isn’t enough to make you tuck your pants into your socks, well then I can’t help you…
What you wear and how you wear it matters!
Spotting a tick on your light-colored clothing is ten times easier than seeing one on black, dark blue or brown clothing. It is something so simple that can make a world of difference.
And on a similar note, train your brain to scan for ticks, especially when outside with a partner. Karl and I like to go for walks in the woods and forage during the summer. We are constantly glancing at each others clothing to catch any ticks before they get too far.
And check these out! Lymeez Tick Gaiters: Grab and Go Tick Repellent Outerwear. Leg-warmer-esque cuffs for your lower legs that have a built in repellent and will prevent ticks from crossing them and crawling up your legs. I want a pair of pants made out of these…
After a leisurely hike, a day of yard work, or even a walk through the pasture- what do you do with your outerwear that could be harboring ticks?
First, remove your clothes in a safe location- right in the laundry area, or even outside if you can. Don’t remove your clothes in a place where you don’t want ticks to drop, like in your bedroom.
Many studies have show that the washing machine is not an effective way to kill ticks and they can survive any water and detergent combination you can throw at them. The CDC has recommended an hour in the dryer on high heat following a wash will be enough to kill most.
I almost never dry my clothes on high, and never for an hour. Uh oh.
Luckily, a brilliant 10th grader, Jaqueline Flynn, discovered that putting her tick-infested clothes in the dryer BEFORE washing them, for five minutes on a low setting, was enough to kill all of that ticks she tested! It works because it dries them out, which makes sense because we know that ticks need moisture to survive. When you dry your clothes after washing them, they are wet and the dryer is full of moisture the whole time, which allows the ticks to survive. So you have to rely on a long period of high heat to kill them. See the difference?
Step 1: clothes in the dryer on low heat (or higher) for five minutes.
Step 2: wash and dry as normal, or don’t. Use the clothes line if you want!
And if you don’t have a dryer, try these ideas:
-closely inspect all articles of clothing inside and out
-make it a point to only wear light colored clothing, so you can spot the ticks
-hang on a clothes line (if dry outside) for multiple days, in order to encourage the tick to dry out and die, or to drop back to the ground
Removing and Disposing
If you find a tick on yourself, your child, or your pet- just remove it right away. I know they’re gross, but suck it up. Assess its difficulty to get out: can you see it and reach it? Do you need help? How imbedded is it? And most importantly, don’t panic! Before you start gouging and squeezing it, stop and get the right tool for the job.
They have some nifty new tick-removal devices you may want to check out, especially if you are squeamish. Plus, they are all designed to not “squeeze” the tick, causing it to release its disease infected juices back into you…
The Tick Key: not a tweezers, but an aluminum gadget that “pops” ticks right off. Plus, it clips to your key chain so you always have it on you. Looks simple and easy to use. It has a lot of rave reviews! I’ve got one in my amazon shopping cart right now.
TRIX Tick Lasso: neat idea- a little lasso that you slip down around the tick’s thorax. Reported to be especially great for long or thick haired animals.
Tick Twister: this is a two-piece set, one big and one small tool- for smaller ticks and larger engorged ticks. There are other tick twister tools listed, but Amazon reviewers claim there is one twister sold as a single piece, but it is too big and doesn’t work on smaller ticks. You just slide the tick into the slot on the end of the tick twister (kind of like when you use the claw end of a hammer to remove a nail) but then you just twist the device a couple times and the tick pops right off.
Don’t put Vaseline or some other substance on it and hope it will come out for air. Get that thing off you immediately!
According to the CDC, to remove a tick:
Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
And what do you do with it once you’ve removed it?
My favorite method is a trip to the sewer.
My skin is crawling as we speak!
Especially if you live in an area that has a high rate of Lyme Disease, I hope you take tick prevention seriously and do whatever you have to do to protect yourself, your family, and your pets.
And if ever you start to get lazy with your tick protection, just imagine them crawling up your legs while asleep in bed… that should light a fire under you!
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