Ticks are out and about! After a mild winter and now a warm early spring in many parts of the country, it’s suddenly tick season. If you and your dog enjoy a romp in long grassy or wooded areas, your dog (and you) can pick up these disease-transmitting parasites. They may even be lurking in your back yard. Last weekend I grabbed a couple that were starting to crawl on my dogs, and I picked some off my own arms too.

Ticks are disgusting creepy-crawlies at any time – especially if they attach to your dog (or you) and become engorged with blood. But they’re also dangerous.

They can transmit Lyme disease as well as other illnesses like erlichiosis, babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, bartonellosis … the list seems to get longer each year.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has named April “Prevention of Lyme Disease In Dogs Month” … and we’re all for preventing Lyme disease … but not using the pharmaceutical products the AVMA suggests.

First, take a look at the risk where you live.

Where Is Lyme Disease Prevalent?

The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) declares on its home page:

CAPC’s map shows the forecasted prevalence for 2017

According to CAPC, endemic areas for Lyme disease are not only expected to experience higher caseloads this year, but are now expanding beyond the northeastern and central Midwestern US to include Western Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, as well as the following states:

  • The Dakotas
  • Iowa
  • Missouri
  • Southern Illinois
  • Ohio
  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee
  • North Carolina

The map below shows Lyme disease cases in dogs for the year 2016

By the way, tick disease is scary but there’s another reason for all this alarming data. CAPC is sponsored by … Idexx Labs plus a bunch of pharmaceutical companies – all of whom stand to gain from getting the pet owning population riled up about the dangers of tick disease (as well as heartworm and intestinal parasites). CAPC encourages year round tick protection as well as vaccination against Lyme disease.

So … just in case you’re thinking about using some of these pharmaceutical companies’ pest control products, let’s talk about why you should think twice about doing that. And then we’ll tell you about some safe and effective natural alternatives.

(Here’s another great article with more natural solutions to help protect your dog this tick season.)

Dangers Of Pharmaceutical Tick Products

These are the primary ingredients found in popular spot-on pest control products, and the reasons why it’s best to avoid using them on your dog.


Fipronil is the primary active ingredient in products like Frontline Plus, PetArmor, Sentry and FiproGuard.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Pesticide Division has found that fipronil enters the body and can be contained in the fat, organs, urine and feces of dogs.
  • Pets treated with fipronil have developed skin irritation, lethargy, incoordination, dilated pupils, facial swelling and convulsions
  • Fipronil can also cause nervous system and thyroid toxicity, thyroid cancer, altered thyroid hormone levels, liver toxicity, kidney damage, whining, barking, crying, loss of appetite, locomotor difficulty, reduced fertility, fetus mortality, smaller offspring, loss of hair at or beyond the point of application, moist inflammation, chemical burn and itching
  • The EPA classifies fipronil as a potential carcinogen because it has caused benign and malignant thyroid tumors in laboratory animals.
  • One of fipronil’s breakdown products (fipronil-desulfinyl) is ten times more toxic than than fipronil itself.
  • Scientists at Murray State University found that people can be exposed to fipronil when they pet an animal that’s received a treatment. Fipronil persists for at least 56 days on pets.

Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids

This group of ingredients include permethrin, penothrin, etofenprox, fenvalorate. Permethrin and etofenprox are in BioSpot Active Care Spot-on and K9 Advantix II contains permethrin.

Most people consider the natural alternative, the pyrethrins (naturally occurring compounds from the chrysanthemum plant) and pyrethroids (the synthetic counterpart), as less hazardous than fipronil. But that’s not the case. CPI, the Center for Public Integrity, found that from 2002 through 2007 at least 1,600 pet deaths from pyrethroid spot-on treatments were reported to the EPA. In addition:

  • An EPA survey of poison control centers found pyrethrins cause more insecticide poisoning incidents than any other class of insecticides except the organophosphates. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, and difficulty breathing.
  • Pyrethrins can trigger life-threatening allergic responses including heart failure and severe asthma, brain damage and seizures.
  • Pyrethrins can cause anemia and disrupts the normal functioning of sex hormones.
  • The EPA classifies pyrethrins as “likely to be human carcinogens” because they cause thyroid tumors in laboratory tests. Farmers who use pyrethrins have an increased risk of developing leukemia.


Imidacloprid is in Advantage II and K9 Advantix II as well as the very popular Seresto Flea and Tick Collar.

  • It’s a systemic insecticide that acts as an insect neurotoxin and belongs to a class of chemicals called the neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides acting on the central nervous system of insects.  Despite the claim of lower toxicity for mammals, it’s still a neurotoxin!
  • In laboratory animals, symptoms of acute (short-term) oral exposure to imidacloprid included: apathy, labored breathing, loss of the ability to move, staggering, trembling, and spasms. Some symptoms lasted for five days following exposure.
  • Also in laboratory animals, symptoms of breathing imidacloprid (for four hours) included difficulty breathing, loss of the ability to move, and slight tremors.


This ingredient is used in flea and tick collars like Preventic®.

  • It kills ticks by interfering with their nervous systems and can be deadly to dogs if they eat their tick collar!
  • Other side effects include low blood pressure, decreased body temperature, high blood glucose, dilated pupils, slow heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea or seizures.
  • Amitraz has also been classified as a potential carcinogen.

Convenient Oral Preventives?

There are three fairly new drugs in the category of oral flea and tick preventives:

  • Nexgard
  • Bravecto
  • Simparica

Nexgard (active ingredient afoxolaner) and Bravecto (fluralaner) were approved in the US in late 2013 and early 2014.  Simparica (sarolaner) was introduced in March 2016.

These handy chewable drugs are designed to be taken every month or three months. And while that may sound convenient, it’s a big problem.

The drugs work by destroying the insects’ nervous systems … and if they’re deadly for fleas and ticks, think about what they can do to your dog. And once your dog takes one of these drugs, if he has any side effects, you can’t remove it from his body … it stays in his bloodstream for weeks or months.

Even though these drugs haven’t been available for long, there are already reports of many side effects for both Nexgard and Bravecto (Simparico is too new for there to be any reports). For just a three month period from January through March 2016, several hundred cases of vomiting were reported for each drug. Other common side effects reported are lethargy and diarrhea. Seizures are quite high on the list, with 22 each reported for both Nexgard and Bravecto. Nine deaths are reported for each drug for the same period.  For Nexgard, five of the nine deaths were by euthanasia.

Read more about the risks of these drugs.

So, it’s pretty clear that these products carry high risks for your dog and even for you!

Ingredient Summary

The chart below summarizes the anti-tick ingredients, common side effects and which product they’re found in.

Note: some of these products also repel fleas and other biting insects so may contain other active ingredients not included below.

What About The Lyme Vaccine Your Vet Recommends?

Many vets, especially in Lyme-endemic areas, highly recommend the Lyme vaccine. But it’s a high risk vaccine that can itself cause Lyme disease symptoms.

Humans are actually much more susceptible to illness from Lyme infection than dogs are, and yet there’s no Lyme vaccine for humans. Ever wonder why your dog can get a Lyme vaccine but you can’t?

Well, in the 1990s a Lyme vaccine, LYMErix, was developed for humans. But only four years after it was introduced, the manufacturer (Smith Kline Beecham – now Glaxo Smith Kline) withdrew the product, citing low demand. However, the real reason was almost certainly the adverse events associated with the vaccine. These included arthalgia, myalgia, pain arthritis, arthrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, facial paralysis, hypersensitivity reactions, thrombocytopenia, anemia, kidney compromise, heart disease and even some deaths – and one suicide.

Lyme Vaccines For Dogs

Despite the problems with the human Lyme vaccine, there are several Lyme vaccines for dogs on the market and they are just as risky for dogs as they were for humans.The vaccine itself can cause Lyme disease symptoms, and may also cause autoimmune disease in some cases.

According to holistic veterinarian Patricia Jordan DVM, the vaccine in this case is worse than the disease itself.

“The Lyme vaccine was never safe. The adverse events that occurred in people are happening to dogs every day but not recorded.

“There are cases of Lyme vaccinations given, the dog subsequently dying from Lyme nephritis (kidney disease) but no infective bacteria being retrieved. Why is this? It is caused by the action of the immune system itself: the immune cells, reacting to the provocative antigens in the Lyme vaccines, are capable of causing the pathology of Lyme disease.

“There is no justification for taking this serious vaccination risk with our dogs. The Lyme vaccine is all risk and no benefit; there is a high chance of severe adverse events like a lifetime of non-treatable arthritis pain just for getting the jab in the first place.”

Even the New York Times wrote about the need for caution in using the Lyme vaccine for dogs, in an article in June 1991.

Dr Michael Garvey of the Animal Medical Center in New York said that within days or weeks after being vaccinated, some dogs suffer temporary Lyme-like symptoms, making him reluctant to use the vaccine in elderly patients or dogs with chronic disease.

The article also stated, “Scientists have also raised concerns about possible longer-term dangers. Evidence is growing that some ill effects of Lyme disease in humans are not caused by the bacterium directly, but by the responses to it of the body’s immune system — autoimmune effects — said Dr. Richard H. Jacobson, a veterinary scientist at Cornell University. In theory, he vaccine might promote similar effects over time, he said.”

Despite the fact that many veterinarians recommend and even push Lyme vaccines, it’s clear that there’s a high risk trade-off if you choose to vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease. And even if you do, it won’t protect against other tick-borne diseases that may be more common where you live.

The Best Prevention

So how do you protect your dog from Lyme disease as well as other tick-borne diseases? Prevention may be better than cure, but the best method of prevention is to keep the ticks off your dog!

Fortunately there are a number of natural alternatives to keep ticks, fleas and other biting insects off your dog.  Keep reading to learn about some easy home remedies.

And always check your dog for ticks after he’s been out playing in wooded or grassy areas. If you remove the ticks within 24-36 hours they’re less likely to transmit disease.

Home Tick Repellent Remedies

There are many commercially available natural remedies you can use to spray on your dog to keep the ticks off, but here are some easy things you can do at home. If you’re using these homemade remedies, it’s a good idea to use more than one. For example, feed garlic and also use the tick shampoo or citrus spray.


Feeding your dog some organic, raw garlic every day can help keep the pests away. It’s safe in moderate amounts as listed below. Peel and chop the garlic and let it sit for 15 minutes before adding it to your dog’s food. This releases allicin, the active ingredient in garlic.

Using a level measuring spoon, feed the following amount per day, according to your dog’s weight.

5 lbs               ⅙ tsp

10 lbs             ⅓ tsp

15 lbs             ½ tsp

20 lbs            ⅔ tsp

30 lbs             1 tsp

Caution: Don’t use garlic in pregnant females, for puppies under 6 months, or for Akitas and Shiba-Inus who are sensitive to the hemolytic effects of garlic.

Read more about other health benefits of garlic.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) makes your dog’s blood less appealing to ticks (as well as fleas). Buy organic ACV if you can, and add 2 tablespoons of the apple cider vinegar to your dog’s food or water bowl as a preventative.

Diatomaceous Earth

DE is a natural mineral compound. To us it’s just a dust, but to insects it’s razor sharp and cuts them. If they eat DE it shreds their insides. Using care to keep it away from your dog’s mouth and eyes, sprinkle DE on your dog, pulling back the hair to get it on the skin. Always use food grade diatomaceous earth (DE), never pool grade (which has been heat treated and can be toxic).

Tick Repellent Powder

You can also combine DE with two powdered herbs well known for their insect repellent properties: Neem and Yarrow. Combine equal quantities of DE, powdered Neem and Yarrow, and rub the mixture into your dog’s skin – again, pulling back the hair to get it on the skin. A little goes a long way – about 1 tsp should cover a medium sized dog. Here’s more detail about these ingredients.

Homeopathic Ledum palustre

Homeopath Joette Calabrese recommends using Ledum if you find a tick embedded in your dog.

First remove the tick, using tweezers or a tick removal device like the Tick Key.  (I love this gadget as I can keep it on my key ring so it’s always with me, and it works fast and easily). Dispose of the tick in a jar of alcohol to make sure it’s dead … they will crawl out of your trash can and you don’t want them walking around your house and back onto your dog or you! Read more about tick removal.

Buy Ledum palustre in a 200C potency (or 30C if you can’t find it), and dose as follows:

  • Give the first dose at the time you remove the tick.
  • Continue dosing with Ledumevery 3 hours for the first day
  • Then, dose twice daily for a week
  • After the first week, dose twice weekly for a month
  • Then once per week for another month

Joette says this many doses is probably overkill, but worth the extra effort to be certain.

A dose means 2-3 pellets tipped straight into your dog’s mouth but if your dog spits out the pellets, just stir them into a little spring water and use a dropper or syringe to put some on your dog’s gums. Keep the water mixture on the counter for 2-3 days and stir each time before redosing.

Tick Shampoo

Mix several drops of Palo Santo essential oil with your favorite organic lavender shampoo (Dr Bronners Castile soap is a good option). Let the suds sit on your dog for twenty minutes before rinsing. This will kill any existing ticks or prevent new ones.

Citrus repellent

Cut a lemon into quarters and put into a pint jar. Cover with boiling water and let steep overnight. Put the solution in a spray bottle and spray all over your dog, especially behind the ears, around the head, at the base of the tail and in the arm pits.

There are lots of options to protect your dog from ticks and other biting insects … without resorting to toxic chemicals with harmful side effects, or vaccines that can cause the same symptoms as the disease itself.

(We have another great article featuring some great natural tick prevention solutions for your dog. Click here …)