(Don’t) Bite Me

Keep your family and pets safe from tick-borne disease by performing regular tick checks.

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George Walker

If you’re bitten by a tick, it isn’t just Lyme disease you need to worry about. There are other tick-borne infections you can get from a bite, so it’s important to ensure you minimize the risk of encounters with ticks and the possibility of a bite.

Tick Checks

Checking for ticks is one habit that I highly recommend everyone adopt, whether you live rurally or in the city. I can’t emphasize this enough. Tick populations vary depending on where you live. Tick densities are likely to be considerably lower on a city lawn than they are in the leaf litter on a forest floor, but that doesn’t mean you won’t encounter a tick on your lawn.

Tick checks are easy to do and should become a part of your daily routine. I recommend performing tick checks at least twice a day: Before bed, do a full-body tick check to make sure there are no ticks crawling on you or feeding, and do the same thorough check when you get up in the morning. Why twice? Because if you missed the tick in the evening and it’s been feeding on you overnight, it’ll likely be more engorged with blood in the morning, which means it’ll be easier to spot. It’s critical to remove a tick as soon as you find it.

graphic of human body with red arrows and text showing best places to check for ticks.

In terms of where to look when doing a full-body tick check, the answer is … everywhere! And I do mean everywhere. Remember, ticks like moisture and tend to look for places where your skin is thinner, so you can imagine some of the places they may choose to latch onto you. Ticks have been known to park themselves under bra straps, underwear bands, waistbands, and similar places, so it’s important to check out these areas of your body carefully. Also be sure to look in less-obvious places, such as behind your ears, on your scalp, in your armpits, under your breasts, behind your knees, between your toes, in your belly button, and, yes, around the groin and buttocks.

Believe it or not, I recently found a tick in the outer corner crease of my eyelid. It was small and so well-hidden in the crease that nobody saw it until several hours later, when it was engorged enough to be visible.

In addition to my nighttime and morning tick checks, I look for ticks immediately after coming inside from outdoor activities, such as hiking and gardening. It’s also a good idea to examine your clothes and any gear you may have had outdoors with you.

Checking Kids

It’s really important to do a thorough tick check on your kids if they have been outside. Because a nymph tick can be the size of a poppy seed, it can be easy to miss. Teens will probably want to do their own tick check, but be sure to assist younger kids so that they don’t miss any places. This way, your kids will also learn where to look, and you’ll help them develop this important twice-daily habit. Be sure to carefully check your child’s scalp. It’s easy for a tick to go undetected under thick hair. You might even consider using a louse comb, which is a very fine-toothed comb, to catch any ticks that you simply can’t see.

Checking Pets

Unfortunately, it’s possible for your pets to unknowingly bring ticks into the house, and then, when you curl up on the couch with your cat or dog, the tick can migrate from your pet onto you. This is why it’s increasingly necessary to use vet-recommended preventative treatments nearly all year long — especially since some ticks are even active in winter.

In addition to applying regular preventative treatments, you should also do tick checks every time they come inside from being outdoors. In general, ticks look for areas where the skin is thinner, so they often migrate to an animal’s face. I often find ticks on the top of my dog’s head or around her eyes. I’ve also found ticks on her belly. To check your pet, run your fingers through their fur and feel for any slight bumps. Then check in and around the ears, around the eyelids, under the collar, under the front legs, between the back legs, between the toes, and around the tail.

photo of old woman's hands holding open a tan dog's ears to check for ticks.

If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible. If your pet shares your bed, it’s a good idea to ensure you perform a tick check on yourself in the morning, even if your pet primarily lives indoors. Both of my cats are indoor cats, but they do spend time on my screened porch. I have discovered that at night, mice can find their way onto the porch, and with small rodents also come ticks. If a tick drops off a mouse that was on the porch, and the tick finds its way onto one of my cats, then the cat can easily bring the tick indoors and into my bed. My point here is that your pets can bring ticks inside, and if you sleep with your pets or spend a lot of time in close contact with them, it is possible for you to “inherit” ticks from them.

The way I look at it, the few minutes it takes to do a tick check on both you and your pet are worth it in the long term. The pain and suffering associated with Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases would be far more disruptive than developing this twice-daily habit.

Showers and Baths

When I’m outside in places where I could encounter a tick, the first thing I do when I come inside is have a shower or a soak in the hot tub. Despite loving humidity, ticks don’t like water. If there is a tick on you that isn’t feeding (meaning, its mouthparts aren’t embedded in your skin), then it’ll hop off you as soon as water hits it. Given that larval and nymphal ticks can be tiny and look like specks of dirt, having a quick shower or soak is, in my experience, one of the best ways to ensure you get any crawling ticks off your body. Before I hop in the shower or tub, I still do a full-body tick check.

If you don’t want to have a shower or bath and you have a pool or hot tub, take a quick swim or soak. You can even dunk yourself in a lake for a few minutes.

This adapted excerpt was taken from Lyme Disease, Ticks and You by Shelley Ball, PhD, with permission from Firefly Books Ltd.

red book cover with white text

Lyme Disease, Ticks, and You is an easy-to-follow and essential guide to understanding, detecting, and treating Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. Inside you’ll learn all the information you need not only to understand the science, prevent tick bites, and recognize Lyme, but also to get treatment for this complex and often misdiagnosed disease.

This title is available at the Grit store or by calling 866-803-7096. Item #11095.

  • Updated on Jun 27, 2021
  • Originally Published on Jun 10, 2021
Tagged with: insects, larval and nymphal, pests, pets, ticks