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Country living isn't new to me; I grew up in a rural area. But ticks? Yep, definitely a new-to-me experience. And this year, ticks are already much, much worse than they were last year - a trend throughout the nation, I read. And while the little buggers completely gross me out (just writing this post makes me feel like ticks are crawling all over me), I don't relish the thought of spraying my family with DEET day in and day out. So here are a few things that have helped us keep the ticks at bay naturally.
(Please bear in mind that I don't live in an area where Lyme disease is currently a factor. If I did, I might be more inclined to use DEET as the lesser of two evils.)
1. Yard Maintenance. Keeping the grass mowed goes a long way toward keeping ticks out of the yard. Yes, some ticks hang out on bushes and trees, but a many more seem to lurk in tall grass. Keeping that grass short obliterates a tick's favorite hang out. In addition, having gravel or bark borders surrounding common human hang outs (like the deck) may help keep ticks at bay.
2. Dress Right. When you're in tick-infested areas, wear boots with long pants, or tuck your pants into your socks. It may look dorky, but it keeps ticks from climbing up your legs. Long sleeves help, too.
3. Cloak Your Scent. Many types of ticks know what to jump on by that creature's smell, so anything you do to mask your smell will help deter ticks. We've been using tea tree oil - apparently successfully. (That is to say, we've never found a tick on us after applying it.) I just dab it onto our ankles (or the ankles of our boots), our wrists (at the pulse points, just like you'd do with perfume), and our necks. Since mosquitoes are also a problem for us, I also want to experiment with using Thieves' Vinegar. I've made a batch (you can read about that here), and it stinks a lot, but we haven't had a chance to use it yet.
4. Check Right Away. As soon as you're out of the tick-infested area, check for ticks. Remove all your clothes and check every nook and cranny. It's best to put those clothes directly into a sealed, plastic garbage bag, or directly into the washing machine (which should then be turned on), so any ticks on your clothes won't be loose in the house.
5. Remove Ticks CORRECTLY. If you find a tick, remove it carefully. So many of the tick-removing ticks neighbors and family told us about - or that we read about on the internet - are not recommended because they allow the tick a chance to regurgitate into your blood stream, increasing the likelihood it will pass on some disease to you. Methods to avoid include using a match or heat source, using manual rubbing, or using bag balm, petroleum jelly, or some other oil. The CDC recommends using tweezers, but I find this usually results in the tick's head being left behind - definitely not what we're after! Then I discovered the Tick Twister. When I first bought this device, I was highly skeptical. It seemed too simple and too much like tweezers. But trust me, this baby works! You just insert the tick between the tongs of the device, then turn, like a screw driver. Out comes the tick, head and all!
6. Dealing with the Dog. One area where we still struggle is with the dog, who is basically a 90 lb. tick magnets. Tea tree oil is toxic to dogs. (According to Pet MD, uou could could safely use .1% to 1% tea tree oil, but I doubt it would be strong enough to keep ticks at bay.) Our neighbors use garlic powder, sprinkled into their dog's food. When they told me this, I was surprised; I thought garlic was toxic to dogs. But further research online and in books indicates that it's a matter of proper dosage. The book All You Ever Wanted to Know About Herbs for Pets claims dogs can have 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder per pound of food, 3-4 times a week. (If your dog is anemic or has other health issues, talk to your vet before giving the dog garlic.) I plan to start feeding our dog this tiny amount of garlic powder to see if it really does keep ticks at bay.
How do you deal with ticks? Leave a comment and share your wisdom!