A recent discussion about Ehrlichia prompted a reminder that topical control is important, but there are multiple steps that you can take to reduce exposure to ticks and fleas.  Some tick products don’t work fast enough to kill the tick before it can transmit disease, so using additional measures is valuable.


1.    Keep your dog in mowed areas.  (This is always a good practice, as it helps avoid burrs and grass awns.)  Be sure that weeds and tall grass aren’t growing along a fence.  When you travel, choose stops where the grass is kept short to relieve your dogs.  When you camp, a maintained site will be better when that is an option.  Cedar trees are tick havens, so some distance from Eastern cedars is best.

2.    I use a home-prepared mint spray (mainly spearmint with some Eucalyptus – not peppermint) on their coat when we camp.  This isn’t a stand-alone defense.  I also will bathe with diluted tea tree shampoo before leaving, and will use the diluted shampoo in a quart-size nozzle bottle if clean-up is needed during the campout.  Note:  if you are in a trailer or RV, a solvent-based spray of any kind will cause your propane alarm to sound, over and over, so spray outside and let the solvent evaporate.

3.    Grooming – using a high-speed dryer after a walk or a swim when the Newfs are where there may be ticks will help remove loose ticks.  We travel with a portable dryer.  It is easier to see down to their skin with the dryer.  As you move the nozzle, you may notice a tiny dark spot and you can use the dryer to see whether that is a tick.  Combing and brushing will help you find some loose ticks or recently attached ticks.  Feeling their coat regularly lets you recognize even a tiny bump in the wrong place.  Often ticks move to their heads, where they are easier to find.  Loose ticks riding a dog in may find a human during the night.

4.    Observe:  Your Newf may begin scratching, panting or rubbing it’s head on something.  It may suddenly reach toward its leg and chew.  This could be due to a tick, a flea, a burr or something else.  Chewing quickly leads to secondary problems, so that behavior always merits quick attention.

5.    A very miserable experience for a Newf (or a human) is exposure to hatchling ticks.  These vary in size, and the worst exposure is to the ones so small that they look like finely ground black pepper moving up a bare leg at a rapid pace.  On bare human skin, those are easily removed with tape.  Gorilla tape is an essential travel resource, so it is usually in our van.  (found 3 rolls on Saturday!)  For Newfs, if there is a swimming point or a hydrant, that will eliminate most.  In our area, this stage is commonly on tall brushy plants during the hottest, driest part of the year, usually late July through August.  Making a slight contact as you pass will allow hundreds to crawl up your leg very rapidly.  If these get down to a Newf’s skin, it can cause an itching frenzy.

6.    If you have livestock, sulfur salt blocks will reduce the presence of ticks.  Ticks can migrate from adjoining pastures or be carried in by livestock.

7.    There are many pathogens carried by ticks, some still unknown, some for which they acquire immunity.  Taking your dog to an area where there are new risks requires more attention to prevention.

1.    Fleas typically have about a 15-day life cycle.  If any creature living inside your home may be or may have been exposed to fleas, a whole-house floor and bedding cleaning and dog grooming on the same day within two weeks is a good management practice.  Along with a regular preventive, this has worked well for us.  “Flea bombs” can eliminate a problem, but preventive control is better for indoor health when those can be avoided.

2.    Treat all animals that may be exposed or may harbor fleas with preventive.  There are several over-the-counter immediate remedies if you need to treat a lost dog in order to prevent problems with your dogs.  These are one-time treatments, not standalone methods of prevention.

3.    Flea exposure can occur at any time of the year, and fleas or ticks may be carried onto your property by wildlife.  Fleas can get into your vehicle when you visit a dog event, a fair, a shelter or a friend where there is a problem.  During the hottest periods of summer, inside vehicle temperatures may eliminate a problem, but vehicles will also need to be cleaned and treated if there has been an exposure.

4.    I use the mint spray for this purpose also, but it has been less effective with fleas.  There are some commercial sprays also.  For a “pet-safe” spray intended for direct application, I spray the outside of the coat directly, I spray the under-side of the bedding and I spray the inside of the vehicle.  Some solvents may damage some types of surfaces, so read the label http://thebigfootclub.com/travel-camping/carefully.

I am conservative about the use of materials that treat grounds or pesticide sprays applied inside the house.  Choices are a matter of risk management:  the severity of the risk may lead you to choose more intense control methods.  “Natural” doesn’t always mean safe.  Some natural products are very effective with less risk.  Read the label and research the product online through non-promotional sites.  The NIH PubMed site is a good place to find abstracts of articles by entering the chemical name on the label.  If the inside of a vehicle must be treated, you can decrease risk of exposure by ventilating after the treatment period and not using the vehicle for a few days, if you have an alternative vehicle or can avoid use for that long.

I’m also a fan of camping with Newfs.  It’s important to minimize risks, but it’s also important to enjoy life.  Be sure to take a battery-operated fan if you camp in a primitive spot, and see the Travel & Camping link in the top menu for additional travel information.

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