When it comes to nuisance insects, few compare with ticks. Backyard ticks can take the fun out of spending time outdoors—for you and your pets—and can transmit serious, sometimes debilitating diseases. Take action to prevent ticks from interfering with your enjoyment of the outdoors.
The Danger of Ticks
Ticks are blood-sucking arachnids that require a host to survive and reproduce. They don't jump or fly. Instead, they lie in wait for a host, which is their "ticket to ride." They crawl on their intended victim until they find a suitable place to attach themselves. A tick will gorge on blood for days, puffing up with its sustenance until it has enough to reproduce, at which point it detaches.
Ticks are a nuisance. Their bites cause irritation. Pets with sensitive skin can develop allergic reactions that lead to rash, hair loss, or skin infection. Tick-borne pet diseases can cause symptoms in their host in one to three weeks. In dogs, they can also lead to other diseases, including:
- Canine ehrlichiosis has symptoms such as weight loss, lethargy, and decreased appetite.
- Lyme disease, a well-known disease among humans, can also lead to fever, joint swelling, lethargy, and kidney damage in dogs. (There is some debate whether Lyme disease affects cats. They are thought to be highly resistant.)
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a potentially fatal disease with symptoms such as fever and muscle pain.
When Ticks Are Most Active
Ticks thrive in warm, humid temperatures. They are more widespread when humidity is between 50% and 90% and temperatures are above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Here are the seasons and regions where ticks are most predominant.1
March through October: Florida and Gulf Coast states.
April through September: California, northern Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and the northern portions of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.
May through August: Washington, Oregon, Northern California, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, District of Columbia, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
Warm weather months: Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.
The Various Kinds of Ticks
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps tick surveillance data for ticks around the United States.2 Here are some of the most common ticks.
- The American dog tick is also called the wood tick. It has a huge range that includes most of California and all of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. It can transmit Tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It is most active in spring and summer. It feeds on people and dogs.
- The blacklegged tick is also called the deer tick. It is widely distributed across the U.S., from the eastern portions of the Dakotas down to central Texas and over to the Atlantic Ocean. It can transmit several diseases, including Lyme disease, posing the greatest threat in spring, summer, and fall. It is sometimes active in winter when temperatures are above freezing. It mainly affects deer and dogs.
- The brown dog tick has the widest distribution, encompassing all 48 contiguous states. As the name suggests, dogs are the primary host, but this tick can also bite humans and other mammals. It can also carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, especially in the southwestern U.S. and along the U.S.-Mexico border.
- The Gulf Coast tick is found among the Gulf States, along the Atlantic Coast as far north as Virginia, and in parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma, and southern Kansas. Adult ticks feed on deer and other wildlife, while immature nymphs feed on birds and small rodents. The Gulf Coast Tick can be a vector for a form of spotted fever.
- The lone star tick wasn't named for Texas but for a white dot, or "lone star," on the back of the adult female. This tick's saliva can cause redness and irritation and also carry disease. It attacks people, deer, and dogs. The tick is found in most of the eastern U.S., from eastern Nebraska down to central Texas and over to the Atlantic Ocean.
- The Rocky Mountain wood tick is found in higher elevations, including non-coastal areas of Washington state, Oregon, and northern California, as well as all of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado. Adult ticks feed mainly on large mammals. They can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, and Tularemia.
- The western blacklegged tick is found along the Pacific Coast areas of Washington state and Oregon, most of California, much of Utah, and a smattering of the Nevada desert. Nymphs often feed on lizards and other small animals but can also carry Lyme disease.
Finding and Preventing Backyard Ticks
To fight ticks, you need to know where they're likely to be lurking. Ticks prefer moist, shady conditions. Not surprisingly, many are found in woodlands and in the transitional area between woodlands and open spaces. In yards, they're often found in gardens, bushes, or shrubs.
Chemical control with a tick insecticide, known as an acaricide, is the most effective way to reduce tick populations, especially when tick habitat is reduced at the same time.3 While acaricides can be applied to tick habitats, avoid using them in vegetable, herb, or butterfly gardens or close to water sources. Adams™ Yard & Garden Spray and Adams™ Plus Yard Spray make treating an entire yard easy because they're safe to use on gardens, lawns, flowers, and even patios and porches. They attach to a garden hose for quick distribution and offer four weeks' worth of protection against ticks, mosquitoes, and other pests.
Preventing Ticks in Your Home and Yard
Consider the following to help prevent ticks:
- Use fewer groundcover plants, such as pachysandra, vinca vine, and ivy, near areas used by family and pets.
- Move firewood and bird feeders away from the house.
- Place sandboxes, swing sets, and other pieces of children's play equipment away from wooded areas and set them on an island of wood chips or gravel.
- Install gravel or wood chip pathways—the wider, the better.
- Create a barrier by applying a flea and tick spray in targeted areas, such as along the lawn perimeter.
- Keep deer out of the yard. Landscape with plants that they don't normally eat (anything with gray or fuzzy foliage is a good start) and use fencing or deer repellents. Lighting or sprinklers attached to motion detectors can also help.
Landscaping to Prevent Ticks
There are a number of landscaping ideas you can implement to cut down on ticks in the backyard. Mow the lawn frequently and rake up leaves promptly. Install a three-foot-wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between the lawn and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into those areas. Keep tall grasses, weeds, and brush around the house cleared to remove tick hiding spots. Old furniture, mattresses, and debris also shelter ticks, so clear the yard of those, as well.
Protecting Your Pets from Ticks
In the short-term, keep pets out of tick-infested areas. In many cases, that requires a physical barrier or an electronic fence. If your pet does venture into tick territory, brush and inspect his coat for ticks right away. To protect your pets for the long term, regularly apply tick-killing treatments to your yard. Adams Pet Care offers both preventive and treatment options, including collars, shampoos, sprays, topicals, and pyrethrin dip.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Regions Where Ticks Live," 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/geographic_distribution.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Tick Surveillance," 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/surveillance/index.html
- Stafford III, Ph.D., Kirby C. "Tick Management Handbook," 2007. Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/CAES/DOCUMENTS/Publications/Bulletins/b1010pdf.pdf
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