Happy Dogs

A Real Downer, There’s an Up Tick in the Number of Ticks & We Found Them

This year has been HORRIBLE for ticks! We spent a good deal of March throughout California and into Oregon and we have been literally tick-covered. I don’t recall seeing this many ticks in previous years. I’m not normally squeamish of bugs, but these creepy crawly arachnids have been causing us some headaches this year, so we wanted to share our experiences and tips with you.

What Do We Know, About Ticks

First, what we’ve learned. From our own experiences we’ve definitely seen an “up-tick” in the number of ticks in paradise. . . pun, certainly intended. We traveled all throughout California and the Pacific Northwest in previous years and saw virtually no ticks. Much of this was in the fall, but plenty of the travel was also in spring, allowing for chances of tick sightings. But not one tick was found on us or the dog! This year is such an opposite story!

Funny, but True. Credit: @ Entomology Memes

I found it odd that we didn’t see any in previous years, particularly when we set up camp for days along the northern California coastal mountains. This suggests two possibilities: either there’s more tick abundance or we just happened to encounter more of the regions they are found. Both are possibly true. Here’s why:

Different Ticks for Different Regions

Just like any organisms, various tick species can be specific to a given range. The CDC has a nice set of map graphics to show the geographic distribution of ticks in the U.S. It details the typical range and disease-carrying potential for each of these ticks:

  • American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis)
  • Blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis)
  • Brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)
  • Gulf Coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum)
  • Lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum)
  • Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni)
  • Western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus)
Ticks in the US - CDC Map
Ticks in the US – CDC Map

Of course, with all the moving around of people, pets, and stuff, there’s higher potential for moving ticks too.

Also, ticks do have a specific time of year in which they are more abundant. Here’s where the real messy stuff comes into play though. And it is, of course, related to climate and environmental degradation. What we learned, upon researching more on ticks, is that (1) ticks and tick-bourne illness are on the rise due to climate change, and (2) ticks show up more in patchy areas of “psuedo–wilderness” like that of parks around cities.

Let’s look a bit at both of these. The story of climate and ticks has been realized for quite some time and this “up-tick” has been anticipated. There are many indicators of climate change, but now ticks are recognized as an official climate indicator per the recent EPA climate report.

Lyme Disease on the Rise
Rise in Lyme Disease, Credit @EPA

How about the second one, though. Why would there be more ticks in the parks? Wouldn’t we expect them in the wilderness? Well, here’s where we think the difference between our previous years and this year’s tick experiences are explained. It all comes down to humans’ meddling with the environment, of course. Imagine an ecosystem in balance. A mouse scurries along, a fox snags him up. A basic understanding of ecology tells us that there are oscillations in nature that keep populations in balance relative to one another. So, not all mice make it. And guess who loves to live on our Mr. Mouse? Yep, ticks! So, what would happen if we suddenly eradicated Mr. Fox? There would be more mice and thus more ticks. I think you’re starting to get the picture. This is exactly how parks around cities work. Have you noticed the lack of predators? You’re not likely to find foxes and coyotes running around your town park, at least not for long. Birds are impacted, too. So, let’s think back to our specific experience this year. In previous years, we spent a lot of time in the wilderness. This year, we got held up by rain and docked along a large riverside park just outside of Sacramento. And we found a bounty of ticks here. There are some other interesting factors to look at, as well. There could be links to deforestation, other forms of environmental degradation, and other species’ loss or abundance (i.e. deer) that might be linked to the tick problem. But again, even in the case of deer, the problem is still predator loss.

There is some interesting research related to moose and ticks.

 

This year, we’ve already found an attached tick on Ramsey, tons of ticks on the dogs, and Heather had to battle with an unidentified bug bite which we feared could be Lyme disease related. We still aren’t sure. It caused us to have to break into emergency funds, though, to attend a clinic for antiobiotics, just in case.

What a pain in the neck! No, literally, the ticks apparently love weird spots on our bodies. So, places like under pits and in our hair are prized homes they seek out. On dogs, however, the neck is great real-estate. Under the collar makes a sneaky hiding spot, so don’t forget to look there when checking for these nasty buggers.

They arent to be taken lightly. There’s a whole host of diseases these guys carry.

 

What Can We Do, About Ticks

So, we’ve been on the hunt for solutions for ticks. With only an anticipated rise in ticks and tick problems, it’s worth spending your time on some tick education. Here are some things to consider.

Know your ticks: You can identify the tick by type and location.

Lessons Learned: Perhaps humans could also start looking at some of these trends as important indications of the consequences of toiling with nature. Wilderness is our #1 resource. The closer it is to wild, the better we are.

But, ticks are here to stay. So, how do I keep them off of me!? I have a terrible reaction to DEET products and never really liked strong chemicals such as DEET anyway, so we were searching for alternatives. Besides, we also needed something safe for the dogs. It’s a stressful tradeoff, trying to decide if you should coat your furry friend with harsh chemical insecticides or let them be eaten alive by ticks and mosquitoes. Many traditional flea & tick medications are now shown to cause more problems than it may be worth. Plus, in the past, Lyme disease and other tick diseases weren’t such a big concern in the western U.S. That’s not the case, though, anymore. So, in our search, we came across a new product by Sawyer. It is a synthetic bug spray that is safe for children’s strollers and dog’s fur once dried. So, we’re giving it a test this year with the bug-mania we have to look forward to. We thought the ticks were bad . . . just wait til we get back to mosquito land in B.C., huh!?

If you guys have found great solutions to this pesky problem, please let us know what you’ve found. What works? What doesn’t? We’d love to add it to the list of things to try & share with the community out there. Let’s keep ourselves & our dogs safe. Happy Trails, friends!