Downeast Dog News

Ticks, Ticks, and more Ticks

By Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH | May 01, 2021

Q. I hate ticks! They have ruined my fun outside with my dog. What good are they?

A. Yes, ticks are nasty little things, and they bring much fear along with them. Because of the drought and hot temperatures last year, the tick population was low, and the incidences of tick-borne diseases were way down. Unfortunately, since this winter was mild, we have been pulling ticks off our dogs all winter. Ticks will winter under the snow and come out in the spring. Except for up country we didn’t have much snow cover. Another reason for seeing ticks is the temperature kept going up above 32 degrees. Ticks are dormant when the temperatures go below freezing.

So why do we have ticks at all? To answer this question, we need to look at ecology. Ticks are one of the oldest life forms. They were around to torment dinosaurs. They are part of a complex ecosystem giving a home for many microorganisms, many with which dogs and humans have a problem. They are a food source for many woodland and neighborhood creatures. We all have heard of getting Guinea hens to munch a few ticks around the house. Opossums are known for their tick eating appetite. Maine is fortunate to have this lovely creature move into our state. If you are lucky to have one in your area, make a safe home for him and try to keep the dog away. These are nocturnal creatures, so be aware.

Ticks play a role in population control. As dog owners, we are all versed in prey drive and the role of predators. Just as owls keep the mouse and shrew populations down, ticks play a role in keeping the ecosystem in balance. We are all aware of the effect ticks are having on the moose population in Maine. They announced this week that the number of moose hunting permits are going up to help decrease the population. With this plan the hope is the tick population would drop and stop plaguing these big guys.

When the deer and moose populations grow too big, they get weak and sick from starvation. By over grazing our woods, the damage done affects the other woodland creatures. Ticks keep the population of large mammals down by feeding on the weakest in the herd. Many times, these are the young, old, and infirm. The healthier animals live and reproduce. Since we don’t have many predators except for humans to keep populations of moose in check, ticks have moved in to fill the void.

To help our buddies through tick season, we can do several things. First, if you have a tick problem in your yard, you can buffer the perimeter with 3-foot-wide cedar mulch bed. If that isn’t feasible you can spray the yard with a natural product found at your garden shop or from a professional. Another helpful tip is to make little permethrin tubes out of paper towel and toilet paper tubes, and cotton. You treat the cotton with permethrin and stuff the tubes. Mice will crawl through the tubes and use the cotton for nests. You are treating the mice for ticks.

Remember to treat your dog with an appropriate flea and tick treatment. Herbal treatments need to be used daily during tick season. Permethrin treated vests, shirts, gators, and other doggy garments are helpful. Remember to protect yourself too when out with your best friend.


Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, ME