It is very important to learn how to get rid of ticks because an encounter with ticks can turn your outdoor fun into an unpleasant experience. At the least there is something unsettling about detaching a tick from your skin, at the worst, you could wind up with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Lyme Disease. One tick bite is all it takes to give you a debilitating disease (dogs can get Lyme Disease too) so it is in your best interest, and your family’s, to take aggressive steps to get rid of ticks and prevent bites from occurring. While you definitely want to get rid of ticks on your property, you can also pick them up while camping, hiking, doing yard work, or enjoying the great outdoors on a property that is not your own. That is why preventing tick bites is as important as killing ticks in your yard and home.
What are Ticks?
There is a common misconception that ticks are insects when in fact they are actually arachnids. This places them closer to spiders, mites, and scorpions than, say, fleas or roaches, but they do have some distinctive differences that separate them from their eight-legged cousins . Where spiders are of the order Araneae, ticks (and mites) are of the order Parasitiformes. They are wingless and do not fly.
Ticks are external parasites (ectoparasites) that rely on blood from mammals (including humans), birds, and occasionally amphibians and reptiles. They vary somewhat by species and not all types of ticks bite humans. However, certain types of ticks are vectors for disease. This guide will help you learn how to identify ticks and how to get rid of them.
Types of Ticks
There are approximately 899 tick species worldwide but there around 90 in the United States. All species fall into one of two families: Ixodidae (hard ticks) and Argasidae (soft ticks). Of those ticks that are found on the continental U.S., about 80 fall under Ixodidae and 10 fall under Argasidae [2, 3].
American Dog Tick – Also called wood ticks, these ticks are grayish with the males appearing a mottled gray and the females usually completely gray. As adults, females are around 5 mm long (the males are smaller) but after a feeding they grow to around 1.5 cm. They prefer mammals, including livestock, domestic animals, and humans.
Brown Dog Tick – This is the most common tick found in homes. They are not very distinctive, reddish brown in color, and are around 1/8 inch in length. After a blood meal, females are around ½ inch and gray blue in color. Males are smaller, but do have similar colorations. They prefer dogs for feeding but do feed on humans as well as other animals.
Deer Tick – Also known as blacklegged ticks, they are 3 – 5 millimeters in length with a flat body and 8 legs. At the larval stage they only have 6 legs. Adults are red and brown but females may appear darker and about 10 mm when engorged with blood. Nymphs are 1 – 2 mm in length and have 8 legs. They may be brown, brown-red, or rust in color. They are found on mammals including humans.
Gulf Coast Tick – These ticks look very similar to the American Dog Tick. They are reddish brown with cream scutum and red-brown markings on a small oval body that is 3 – 7 mm in length. Females can grow to 18 mm at full engorgement.
Lone Star Tick – At around 5 mm in length, Lone Star Ticks are distinctive in that they have a cream or white dot on their back. The body is flat and brownish in color. While the bite at all stages of development, they are most likely to transmit disease at the nymph and adult female stages. They do not transmit Lyme disease but do transmit Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness (STARI).
Soft Ticks – Soft ticks are a not a species, but a type. There are several species of tick that fall under this category. They are worth noting here because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers them to be a public health risk because the transmit several diseases including Lyme Disease .
Western Blacklegged Tick – These flat bodied, reddish brown ticks are about 3 mm when adults. The thoracic plate is black. These ticks feed on mammals, including domestic animals and humans. They are known to transmit Lyme disease.
Winter Tick – This tick is what is called a “one host tick” meaning that it stays with one host throughout its lifetime or until the female drops off to lay her eggs. The male winter tick is 3 to 4 mm and the females are somewhat larger. After a blood meal, both are considerably larger. They have a flat, oval body that is brown, tan, or tan with mottled brown.
Woodchuck Tick – Also known as a groundhog tick, this flat, oval tick looks extremely similar to deer ticks, but they don’t transmit Lyme disease. However, they do transmit Powassan disease. It is very tiny, about the size of a sesame seed but larger after a blood meal. The adult is tan with a tan-red plate on its back. Baby ticks are smaller and a lighter tan.
Lifecycle of Ticks
There are four life stages for most ticks: egg, larva (six legs), nymph (eight legs), and adult. Once they hatch, a tick has to have a blood meal at each lifecycle stage in order to survive. Most ticks will attach to a host, have a blood meal, drop off the host, then when they are ready for another blood meal they find another host. Going through several hosts like this means that the lifecycle could take as many as three years to complete. However, there are many that will not survive because they are not able to find a host when they need to feed again.
Ticks usually prefer a different host or different type of host at each stage of life. The eggs hatch and the larva prefer smaller hosts like birds and small rodents. At the nymph stage they will seek out larger hosts like smaller wildlife, dogs, livestock, and humans. Adults prefer mainly large wildlife like dogs, deer, and coyotes as well as humans. The spring and summer months are usually when many ticks are most likely to transmit disease .
What Causes Ticks?
Ticks live in ground covering, under leaf litter and plants. If you have ground cover, brush around your home, and tall grass they can all draw ticks. They crawl onto tall grass, bushes, shrubs, and other vegetation so they can crawl onto potential hosts. Once they attach to a host they crawl upward, that is why many people find ticks in their hair. Contrary to popular belief, ticks do not jump out of trees; they can’t jump at all.
Ticks wait on shrubs and the tips of grasses. They are able to detect body odors, breath, body heat, vibrations, and moisture. Some species of tick are even able to recognize shadows to detect hosts. They find paths that are well used and they wait. They usually hold onto the tip of the grass with their third and fourth pair of legs. They hold the first pair of legs out so that when a host passes they can grab on. This posture is known as questing.
Different ticks are found in different parts of the country. The CDC has maps that show each tick species’ geographical region. For instance, the Brown Dog Tick is found in every state in the U.S. while the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick is found in the Northwest states .
Do Ticks carry Diseases?
Here are some ticks in the U.S. that carry pathogens that may cause disease in humans. There are 4 species of tick that are considered to be a significant public health risk: American Dog Tick, Black Legged Tick, Brown Dog Tick, and Lone Star Tick. Diseases that can be transmitted by certain tick species include :
- Barrelia mayonii
- Borrelia miyamotoi
- Colorado tick fever
- Heartland virus
- Lyme disease
- Powassan disease
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Tickborne relapsing fever
- 364D rickettsiosis
Most tickborne illnesses share some common symptoms. Sometimes it can take a few weeks for them to develop. If a tick has bitten you and symptoms develop in a few weeks, you should talk to your doctor to determine if you have a tickborne illness. Things that will be taken into consideration include:
- The symptoms you are experiencing
- Where the tick bite occurred, the geographic region
- Diagnostic tests
Common symptoms of tickborne illness include:
- Fever – Can be low grade or high, depending on the disease. It can also vary throughout the course of the illness.
- Chills – May accompany the fever.
- Aches and pains – May include headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. Joint pain is a common symptom of Lyme disease. The onset and severity of these symptoms often depends on the specific illness but the patient’s own level of tolerance is also a factor.
- Rash – Several illnesses often have distinctive rashes.
- Lyme disease – Circular rash that starts at the bite site. Usually appears 3 to 30 days after the bite and fever soon follows.
- STARI – Looks similar to Lyme disease, has a red bulls eye pattern around the bite site.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever – Rash can be very different depending on the person. Appearance is spots that are pink, flat, and small that do not itch. They appear on the forearms, wrists, and ankles but can spread to the trunk. It can turn into purple or red spots.
- Tularemia – A skin ulcer develops at the bite site. Swollen lymph glands at the groin or armpit often accompany the ulcer.
- Ehrlichiosis – It can be maculopapular, macular, or petechial.
Tickborne illnesses can be mile or severe. Some are easily treatable without medical intervention or minimal medical assistance while others may require hospitalization. Many are difficult for a doctor to provide an accurate diagnosis so they often prescribe antibiotics. The earlier you seek medical intervention, the lower your risk of developing complications that could be serious [8, 9].
Ticks and your Pet
Ticks attach themselves to your dog the same way they attach to humans. They use their jaws to penetrate the skin and insert their mouthpart in the opening to suck the blood. Often they produce a substance that is gluelike and sticky so that they can stay attached. The area where the tick is attached can become itchy, irritates, and red.
In extreme cases, a tick infestation can cause anemia in a dog. Tick can also cause tick paralysis in dogs. Other diseases that can be transmitted to dogs include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease, both of which can cause serious illness including arthritis and lameness. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease can also be transmitted to humans, but not by infected animals like dogs. However, if a tick bites an infected animal then bites a human, the human can get the disease .
How to Remove Ticks
Not knowing how to remove ticks properly can lead to inflammation and infection. It is important that no part of the tick is left in the skin. If you find a tick attached to you it is important that you remove it as soon as possible. The longer it is attached, the likely it is to transmit a disease if it is infected. The best way to remove a tick is with fine-tipped, curved tweezers. Get as close to the skin as possible and use the tweezers to grasp the tick firmly. Pull up and away from the skin with even pressure and a steady hand. Do not jerk or twist because this can leave mouth parts in the skin.
Once you have removed the tick, clean the bite area thoroughly as well as your hands. Use antibacterial soap or rubbing alcohol. Do not crush the tick. Dispose of it by putting it in a sealed container or bag, put it in alcohol, flush it down the toilet, or wrap it in tape. If you develop any symptoms of a tickborne illness you should see your doctor.
Do not try home remedies like putting petroleum jelly or nail polish on the tick. It is important to remove the tick as soon as possible and these remedies do not work fast enough. It is better to remove it immediately that wait for it to die.
Dog tick removal and prevention is similar to that of humans. If you know how to remove a tick from a human, then you know how to remove a tick from a dog. The sooner you remove it, the better it is for the dog [11, 12]
How to Prevent Ticks
The best way to manage ticks is to prevent them. While ticks can bite at any time of year, they are most active from April through September, when it is warmer. When you are outside, stay away from areas with high grass, heavily wooded and brushy, or with leaf litter. When out on the trail, stick to the center of the trail.
You should also use repellents on your clothing and exposed skin. A product that contains 20 percent to 30 percent DEET is recommended. Treating clothing, socks, boots, backpacks, and tents with a product that contains permethrin is also recommended.
When you come in from outdoors, shower or bathe as soon as possible. This allows you to wash off as well as locate any ticks that could be crawling on you. Use a mirror to do a complete check after being in an area that may have ticks. Places to check include, around and in the ears, under the arms, behind the knees, in the belly button, around the waist, between the legs, in the groin area, and in the hair (especially the hair).
It is important to remember that ticks can crawl on pets, clothing, and gear so before you bring anything in, check your pack, coats, and pets. You can also tumble your clothing for 10 minutes on high heat in the dryer. This will kill any ticks on dry clothing. If your clothes are damp or wet, you will need to tumble them for a longer time. If you heed to wash your clothes, wash in hot water and tumble dry for at least 60 minutes on high or low heat or 90 minutes.
Use a tick preventative on your dog; your veterinarian can recommend one. If your pet is outdoors, check them daily for ticks and if you find one, remove it immediately. You can also make your yard less hospitable to ticks :
- Remove all plant material ground cover and leaf litter
- Clear brush and tall grass your lawn’s edge and around your home
- Mow your yard frequently
- Create a barrier with gravel or wood chips that is 3 feet wide to separate your lawn and any wooded areas. This will help prevent ticks from moving into areas that humans and pets inhabit
- Keep your patio, deck, and playground equipment away from trees and the edge of your yard
- Remove clutter like trash, mattresses, and old furniture that provide a place for ticks to hide
- Put a fence around your yard to keep out nuisance wildlife or animals that can bring ticks into your yard such as stray dogs, raccoons, and deer
- Discourage rodents from coming around your home by keeping wood neatly stacked in a dry area
- Use cedar mulch; it repels fleas and ticks
- Keep trees pruned so that your yard gets more sunlight
How to get Rid of Ticks – on Dogs or Humans
Getting rid of ticks is an ongoing process. Dealing with ticks in your house and yard is more about knowing how to prevent ticks than knowing how to kill ticks. Tick spray for the yard should be applied to bushy and grassy area by your home, lawn edges, and other areas where ticks may hide. Permethrin is a good product to use. You want to create a barrier around the perimeter of your yard to repel ticks and kill any ticks that are in your yard. Incorporate preventative measures into any pest control that you provide. Just know that it is an ongoing process. Just because you kill all the ticks in your yard today doesn’t mean that a raccoon or stray dog won’t bring more in next week.
If you have a tick infestation in your home, the first thing you want to do is clean it completely. Vacuum the floors and furniture well. Keep in mind that ticks prefer dark areas like crevices and cracks, in door frames and windows, behind baseboards, and in pet beds or pens. You want to use a residual insecticide to kill ticks in your home. Contact sprays containing Pyrethrins can also be used and an insecticide dust should be used on pet bedding as a tick treatment for dogs .
Some tick infestations may require the help of professional pest control specialists.
There are a variety of home remedies for ticks:
Citrus is also good, as are neem oil and rose geranium essential oil. Mix any of these oils with almond oil and apply it to your pet’s skin. Be careful with home remedies, though, and research them thoroughly. Not all home remedies are effective or safe .
As always, the best way to get rid of ticks is to prevent them.
1. “Common Ticks” Illinois Department of Public Health: Prevention & Control. (ND). Retrieved on July 22, 2016 from http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/pccommonticks.htm
2. “Ticks” Purdue University: Medical Entomology. 2008. Retrieved on July 22, 2016 from https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publichealth/insects/tick.html
3. “Tick Species” Identify US. (ND) Retrieved on July 22, 2016 from https://identify.us.com/idmybug/ticks/tick-species/
4. “Soft Tick” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. October 23, 2014. Retrieved on July 22, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/tickbornediseases/soft-tick.html
5. “Tick life cycle and hosts” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 1, 2015. Retrieved on July 22, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/life_cycle_and_hosts.html
6. “Geographic distribution of ticks that bite humans” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 1, 2015. Retrieved on July 22, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/geographic_distribution.html
7. “Diseases transmitted by ticks” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 1, 2015. Retrieved on July 22, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/diseases/index.html
8. “Symptoms of Tick Borne Illness” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 1, 2015. Retrieved on July 22, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/symptoms.html
9. “What is Lyme Disease?” American Lyme Disease Foundation, Inc. July 21, 2016. Retrieved July 22, 2016 from http://www.aldf.com/
10. “Ticks” Pets and Parasites. (ND). Retrieved July 22, 2016 from http://www.petsandparasites.org/dog-owners/ticks/
11. “Tick bites: What are ticks and how can they be removed?” Informed Health Online via PubMed Health. April 20, 2016. Retrieved July 22, 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072424/
12. “Tick Removal” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 1, 2015. Retrieved on July 22, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/removing_a_tick.html
13. “Avoiding Ticks” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 1, 2015. Retrieved on July 22, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/index.html
14. “Ticks and Tick Control” Do-It-Yourself Pest Control. (ND). Retrieved on July 22, 2016 from http://www.doyourownpestcontrol.com/ticks.htm
15..”22 Home Remedies for Ticks” Home Remedy Shop. December 10, 2013. Retrieved on July 22, 2016 from http://homeremedyshop.com/home-remedies-for-ticks/