Wednesday, October 30, 2013


An unfortunate result from our overnight on the Florida Trail was that Sheila the dog got ticks. Lots of ticks. Hundreds of them! She was just completely infested, and her hair is so long and thick it was really almost impossible to pick them all off. Not to mention they were in the larval portion of their life-stage, so they were no bigger than the tip of a pencil. So we spent Sunday afternoon at the vet getting her treated and online trying to figure out what to do about ticks on the trail. I've learned a lot about ticks and preventative measures in that time, so I wanted to share the knowledge I aggregated for anyone else looking for this information.

What is a tick and why are they bad?
Ticks are a member of the arachnid family, a relative of spiders. There are many different species of ticks found across the country and there are a few that are known to spread disease. These are the ticks that we humans worry about the most. These hard-bodied ticks include the blacklegged or deer tick, the american dog tick, the brown dog tick, Gulf Coast tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, Pacific Coast tick, and the lone star tick. These ticks can carry a wide array of diseases, most notably Lyme disease, rocky mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis. The most common symptoms of tick-borne disease are fevers/chills, aches and pains, and sometimes a distinctive rash (a bulls-eye or spots).
"Bulls-eye" rash most commonly associated with Lyme disease. Curtesy of the CDC
Ticks undergo a complex lifecycle. Most ticks go through four life stages: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. After hatching from the eggs, ticks must eat blood at every stage to survive. Ticks that require this many hosts can take up to three years to complete their full life cycle, and most will die because they don't find a host for their next feeding. This infographic from the CDC illustrates the lifecycle of a typical deer tick.

Lifecycle of a blacklegged tick
Now, we were hiking in early fall/late summer in Central Florida, which means that almost every species of hard-bodied tick could have been crawling around the forest floor. I did manage to pick a few off of her and identify the species of tick. Each had six legs, and a light colored area on the abdomen. I have decided that the ticks that covered Sheila's legs and belly were larval Lone Star ticks. Here is what just a small section of her foreleg with ticks attached to get a better idea of what we were dealing with. Below that is a shot of the alcohol container we used to preserve some of the ticks in, just in case any tick-born illness developed. Note that this many ticks came from just one of her forelegs.

Each black dot is a tick

Larval stage Lone Star ticks that I pulled off of Sheila
I did find a few nymph stage ticks on the bottom of her paws, but I wasn't able to get a good shot of them.

When your dog is infested after a hike, what do you do?
Me? I panicked. I felt like such an awful dog-mom. I made the mistake of thinking that her Trifexis protected her from ticks, so coming home Sunday evening was a harsh reality to face. We stopped by the Tractor Supply and picked up a kennel dip (17% pemethrin, interestingly enough!) and some tick shampoo that would be a bit more gentle on her sensitive skin. I gave her bath and tried to soothe her worried look. I then decided that I couldn't take chances and brought her to our local Banfield Pet Hospital inside of Petsmart. After a few suggestions of having to shave the dog, which I was adamantly against, the vet suggested we use the Preventic collar. He suggested that some studies have shown that the Preventic collar starts killing ticks within 48 hours which would help minimize any risk of disease transmission. At $18.99 this was the option for us! We also opted to have her vaccinated against Lyme and put on a cycle of doxicylin to further protect against infection.

A note about the dose of doxi… we found out later through Tick Encounter Resource from the University of Rhode Island, that larval Lone Star ticks do not transmit disease, though nymph stage ticks may transmit disease. This was mainly a preventative measure because I am a worrier.

The Preventic collar did seem to kill all of her ticks within about 48-72 hours, though it left the ticks dead bodies attached to her which fell off easily after a good brushing. After reading more about the different tick preventatives, we decided that Preventic isn't our best bet while actually hiking the trail.

Types of tick preventative
There are so many types of tick preventative out there, it can be a little overwhelming. Thankfully, a few sites out there have done all of the hard work and summed up each product including active ingredient, application type and even what treatments are effective against which ticks!

Information gathered from

Information gathered from
What's the best tick protection for dogs on a thru-hike?
The answer to this varies, as no two dogs are the same. For us, topical treatments do not work well due to the nature of Sheila's thick coat. We are personally going to be using a Seresto collar, which isn't listed above. This collar's main ingredients are imidacloprid and flumethrin, it's safe for dogs and cats, it lasts 8 months,  it is water resistant, reaches 97% effectiveness in 48 hours against deer and lone star ticks, and is also effective against fleas. It is a relatively expensive collar. We were quoted around $50 from a local vet.

We are mainly interested in this collar because of the 8 month effectiveness, that way we can put it on her early and keep it on well after the hike. I was leaning toward the Scalibor collar, but it doesn't seem to be offered in the states anymore.

A week and a half later, Sheila is happy and healthy with no symptoms of tick-borne illness. Our little incident really opened up my eyes to the dangers of ticks on the trail. I just hope that our good luck will continue as we set out on the AT early next year!

I hope this is helpful to anyone looking for this sort of information. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to submit them below! Thanks for reading!

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