How to Keep Your Family Tick-Free
When it’s a sunny day in eastern Massachusetts, who doesn’t love to spend as much time as possible outdoors? Spending time outside exploring MA during the warm months is fun. Dealing with ticks is not. Ticks are active nearly year-round, but their busy season is from April to September. They are parasites from the spider family that feed on the blood of people and animals. Read our blog to learn how to keep you and your family tick-free without sacrificing your family outings to tick fears.
Common Ticks in MA
Massachusetts is home to a number of different harmful tick species.
The American dog tick transmits tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The blacklegged (or deer) tick carries Lyme disease, Powassan disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and Borrelia miyamotoi. The brown dog tick transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever. And the lone star tick transmits tularemia, Heartland virus, STARI (or southern tick-associated rash illness), and bacteria that cause ehrlichiosis.
Besides the fact that ticks are a nuisance, their ability to carry and transmit diseases that could make you and your family sick if not properly treated necessitates caution.
Before Going Outside
Know Where Ticks Are Hiding
According to the CDC, engaging in common activities such as walking your dog, tending to your garden, camping, and hunting can increase the likelihood of incurring tick bites. Ticks are often located in tass grass in people’s yards and neighborhoods.
There’s no need to abandon your favorite pastimes because of these parasites! Instead, take a proactive approach to fight the bite.
Tick-Proof Your Backyard
One of the best ways to reduce the chance that you, your family, or your pets suffer from ticks is with basic yard upkeep. Proper landscaping can reduce blacklegged tick populations in your backyard.
Start by removing leaf litter, mowing your lawn, and clearing tall grasses bordering your lawn. If you live near a wooded area, consider constructing a three-foot wide barrier of mulch or gravel between your lawn and the nearby wooded area. This can restrict tick migration.
Don’t give ticks a place to hide on your turf. Keep old furniture and playground equipment away from the edge of your yard or trees. And, as always, remove any trash collecting in your outdoor space.
Long-sleeved shirts act as a first line of defense against parasitic pests. To avoid a hitchhiking pest on exposed skin after accidentally brushing up against tall grasses, opt for long pants as well. If you are looking for ways to be uber-cautious, wearing light-colored clothing can make it easier to spot ticks later in the day.
- Picaridin (known as KBR 3023 and icaridin outside the US)
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
- Para-menthane-diol (PMD)
Watch Your Step
Avoid wooded and brushy areas when exploring outdoors. When hiking or walking to your outdoor destination, walk in the center of the trail. Ticks cannot travel very far without a host since they cannot jump or fly. Instead, they use their legs to latch onto hosts. This is called questing. If you avoid hot spots where ticks are likely located, you decrease your chances of becoming their involuntary host.
After Going Outside
Get Ticks Off Your Clothes
To rid yourself of ticks that latched onto your clothes while you were outdoors, wash your clothes with hot water as soon as possible. Moderate temperatures will not kill ticks — hot temperatures will. Drying your clothes on high heat until they are fully dry is the best practice.
Check for Ticks on Your Person
After spending time outdoors, make sure to examine yourself and your children for ticks. When you return from areas that may have ticks, including your own backyard, perform a thorough inspection of your entire body. Using a handheld or full-length mirror can help. Note that ticks are drawn to moist areas, so check these areas with caution.
Where to Check for Ticks:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around the hair
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
Check Your Pets for Ticks
Ticks can be an unwelcomed hitchhiker, sneakily riding home with you on your pets.
Where to Check for Ticks on Your Pet:
- In and around the ears
- Around the eyelids
- Under the collar
- Under the front legs
- Between the back legs
- Between the toes
- Around the tail
Symptoms of tickborne diseases may not manifest until one to three weeks following a bite. Watch your dog, cat, or other pets for any changes in behavior or appetite if you suspect they have been bitten. Contact a veterinarian should symptoms arise.
Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease and may be effective in reducing the risk of other tickborne diseases. Showering serves as an opportunity to conduct a tick check and may help wash off unattached ticks. As with washing clothes, hot water is most effective at killing ticks.
Once a 1/4” dark-colored bug has been located, you should remove the tick as soon as possible. To remove a tick:
- Using clean tweezers, pinch the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upwards with even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk, as this can cause part of the insect to stay under the skin. If this happens, remove the remaining parts with tweezers.
- If you cannot remove the tick or parts of it easily, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- Use rubbing alcohol or soap and water to thoroughly clean your hands and the bite area.
- Dispose of the tick.
The Tick Experts at F&W Know Where They’re Hiding
To treat tick bites at the source, remove ticks from your yard with F&W’s integrated pest management (IPM) approach. At F&W, our board-certified entomologist, Dr. Jim, helps decide what products are implemented in our professional pest control services — ensuring your ticks are treated as efficiently as possible.
Ticks carry diseases. Just like seeing a doctor to treat or avoid other diseases, it’s best to contact a professional when dealing with the risk of tick bites.