Though common, ticks are an annoying and sometimes dangerous pest due to the spread of Lyme disease. While many chemicals will kill or control them, not all are safe, and many are appropriate for only specific uses. Knowing which chemicals to employ, and when to employ them, is the key to comprehensive pest control for people, pets, and in the yard.
Why Control Ticks?
Ticks are a common pest found in woodlands and grassy areas across the country. Their bites are painful, itchy, and also pose a serious health risk due to the spread of Lyme disease. According to the State of Vermont's handbook for the prevention of Lyme Disease, the nymphal blacklegged tick is responsible for the majority of tick bites resulting in the condition, and these ticks are also among the smallest and most difficult to spot, being only the size of a pinhead.
Controlling ticks, then, is highly important. However, there are many different chemicals to choose from, and not all are appropriate or safe for every situation. Knowing the safest chemical for your specific need is essential to maintaining a healthy environment while getting the protection necessary to prevent exposure to these dangerous pests.
Controlling Ticks On People
The first priority is protection for adults and children when playing, hiking, working, or doing anything outdoors in potential tick habitats. For these purposes, two options are readily available. DEET, a familiar substance known to be highly effective in repelling a variety of insects, has been shown to discourage ticks from attaching to the body, preventing a dangerous bite. As the State of Vermont's Lyme Disease Prevention handbook states, concentrations of 30 percent to 40 percent are ideal for protection from the nymphal blacklegged tick. DEET does not guarantee safety, though, and it is always a good idea to thoroughly inspect yourself after exposure in the outdoors. Permethrin is also effective, killing ticks on contact, but is strictly for application to clothing and non-skin surfaces.
Controlling Ticks on Pets
The second need for control is pets. If pets live in the home, it is of particular importance that they be properly protected because they can also transport the pests into the home, exposing the entire family as well. Greenpaws.org, an organization dedicated to promoting healthful products for pets, publishes a pocket guide to identifying safe chemicals for use on dogs and cats. Among the recommended compounds are Lufenuron, Nitenpyram, Pyriproxyfen, S-Methoprene, and Spinosad. Note that permethrin is explicitly not recommended for pet use, despite its effectiveness in killing ticks when applied to clothing. The Greenpaws.org pocket guide is simple to take to your local veterinarian's office so you can be sure the product you purchase is safe for your pet.
Controlling Ticks In the Yard
Finally, controlling ticks in yards can certainly ease stress by allowing you to put your guard down around the home. These chemicals generally control for more than just ticks, and are spread about the desired protected area in the form of dusts or sprays. Before applying, though, be sure to consider the safety of these chemicals on gardens, particularly when fruits or vegetables are harvested for eating.
The U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine recommends use of chemical pesticides on the lawn as a last resort, and indeed basic preventive measures can be highly effective in discouraging tick presence close to the home. A consistently well-mowed lawn, removal of woodland vegetation nearby, and properly maintained weed and garden plants will make your yard an inhospitable habitat for ticks. In addition, discouraging the presence of wild animals by sealing trash containers and keeping pet foods out of reach can help. If the ticks can't find a food source, they are likely to go elsewhere.
If, however, the problem is severe and chemical pesticides must be used, the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine recommends several of the safer chemicals for this purpose. Carbaryl, permethrin, deltamethrin, and cyfluthrin are all considered moderately safe for yard application. Plant extracts called pyrethrins are also used, but generally are reserved for indoor use due to the longevity of their effectiveness outdoors. Again, smart shopping is key to protecting yourself from the potential hazards of unsafe chemicals while also protecting from ticks. Be sure to read the labels on any product you purchase, and always consult with local or state governments before spreading pesticides in the yard, as some chemicals are only approved for use by state licensed entities.
As with all chemicals, use in moderation is important. Utilize as many preventative measures as possible before supplementing your efforts with the safest of these chemicals, and you'll have the best approach to comprehensive tick control available. If it kills ticks, it might not be good for you, either, so it is always important to use extreme caution, read labels thoroughly, and wear the appropriate protective gear while handling dangerous chemicals. Protection from ticks and Lyme disease is important, but be sure to keep safe while doing so.