How to Get Rid of Ticks and Prevent Lyme Disease

Practice these tick prevention strategies on your property and in your home to help prevent Lyme disease from affecting the health of your household.

Poultry Tick Hunters

Poultry are proven tick hunters, and by raising a free-range flock you can decrease tick populations on your property.

Photo by Getty Images/Catherine MacBride

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About 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease every year, according to new estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that multiply in the bodies of ticks, people and animals, including mice, deer and dogs. A whopping 95 percent of human Lyme disease cases are concentrated in only 14 states situated throughout the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Upper Midwest (see slideshow), but infections have been reported across the country and into Canada. Scientists predict that Lyme disease will continue to spread as climate change causes an increase in the humid summer conditions and mild fall weather favored by the tiny blacklegged deer tick, which is the most common transmitter of Lyme disease.

These deer ticks pick up Lyme bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) when they feed on the blood of infected mice, chipmunks and other hosts. Infected ticks in both the nymphal and adult life stages can then transfer the Lyme bacteria to humans if they latch on for a meal and feed for approximately 36 hours or more. Lyme disease is highly treatable when it’s detected early, but devastating when the infection goes unnoticed for more than a few months. An early-generation Lyme disease vaccine is available for dogs, but people must rely on other defensive measures to avoid ticks and the diseases they often carry. If you’re interested in getting a Lyme disease vaccine for your dog, discuss options with your veterinarian and read up on it at Lyme Info.

Let Poultry Help with Tick Prevention

Leafy wooded areas and grassy meadows are the preferred habitats for blacklegged deer ticks and American dog ticks, which both spend their larval stage in leaf litter, their nymphal stage on small animals, and their adult stage in tall grass or other shrubby vegetation. People have learned how to get rid of ticks by keeping foraging chickens and guinea fowl on their property. In April 2015, we launched the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Chickens and Ticks Survey, and responses revealed that:

• 71 percent had an existing tick problem before they got poultry.
• 78 percent kept poultry that helped control or eliminate ticks within the birds’ feeding range.
• 46 percent experienced a drop in tick populations within a month after getting poultry; 45 percent saw good control after several months to a year.

Many respondents noted that small bantam chickens and game hens can get into tight spots where larger birds can’t fit, resulting in better tick control.

For maximum effectiveness, poultry should be allowed to feed in leaf litter starting in early spring, because that’s where ticks and their eggs hide out during winter. Poultry will eagerly work their way through leaf piles and ground debris when given the opportunity. Poultry also help control other pests, including mosquitoes, grasshoppers and even snakes; see Poultry Pest Patrol for more on these winged pest warriors.

Permethrin-Treated Clothes and ‘Tick Tubes’

If you live in one of the 13 states where Lyme disease risk is highest, learning how to get rid of ticks should be a top priority. You might want to consider using permethrin, a non-organic pesticide that repels and kills ticks. Permethrin is more potent and persistent than the organic materials we usually recommend. We suggest using a formula designed to be applied to clothing rather than misters, sprayers, foggers or other permethrin products. Clothing products that are pre-treated with permethrin are available, or you can buy permethrin with instructions for how to use it to treat your clothes. Take care to not expose kids to this pesticide, as studies have linked permethrin exposure to autism in children. The EPA also classified permethrin as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” so weigh the risk of infrequent exposure to the risk of Lyme disease in your area.

You might also consider permethrin-infused “tick tubes,” which are designed to kill ticks on white-footed mice as well as chipmunks and rats, the main animals from which ticks become infected with Lyme. The tick tubes offer nesting materials impregnated with the pesticide to such critters. The animals then take the material back to their nests, where it kills any ticks that may have latched on to the adults and their young. The small amount of permethrin used in tick tubes is not water-soluble, so it’s not likely to end up anywhere but in a nest.

Sold commercially as Damminix Tick Tubes, these devices are easy to make yourself. Wear rubber gloves and saturate cotton balls, strips of cloth, dryer lint or other rodent nesting materials with a permethrin product made to go on clothing and tents. Then, loosely pack the treated material into pieces of plastic pipe that are about the size of a toilet paper roll, and place them behind logs, in brush piles, or in other locations rodents often visit. In suburban and urban landscapes, dense ground cover has been found to attract mice, so it’s a good place to put tick tubes. After mice and other rodents empty the tubes, replace or reload the pipes. This is best done twice a year — once in spring and again in fall.

Herbal Tick Repellents

Many of our survey respondents reported that they apply veterinary-prescribed tick preventatives on their dogs and cats, but would prefer more organic repellents. Two plant-based aromatics — sweet-scented “rose” geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) essential oil and eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana; also known as “red cedarwood”) essential oil — were repeatedly recommended by readers who use them as spray-on repellents for pets and family members alike. Respondents theorized that these two plant aromatics mask your natural odors, which makes it harder for questing ticks to find you. Both geranium essential oil and eastern red cedar essential oil have proven to be successful repellents against ticks in various life stages, according to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and the Journal of Medical Entomology, respectively.

Using full-strength essential oil can injure human skin and overwhelm pets’ sensitive noses, so follow this simple recipe when making a liquid anti-tick spray: In an 8-ounce spray bottle, combine 10 to 20 drops of rose geranium or eastern red cedar essential oil with 1 teaspoon of vodka or rubbing alcohol. Fill the rest of the bottle with water and shake to combine. The spray can be applied to your skin or clothing. You can spray your dogs’ collars, or spritz the same spots where you would apply other tick preventatives — between the animal’s shoulder blades and at the base of the tail. Before taking your dogs into woods, where they’re likely to pick up ticks, you can lightly spray their legs, too.

You can also add dry herbs to your tick-fighting arsenal for pets. Strew dried and pulverized wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) or pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) leaves on pet beds and outdoor sleeping spots to repel mites and ticks. If you have beautyberry bushes (Callicarpa americana), you can use the leaves (or a strong tea made from them) to repel ticks, fleas and mosquitoes. USDA scientists in Maryland have validated this historic use of beautyberry, according to findings published in Experimental and Applied Acarology. Two beautyberry compounds, callicarpenal and intermedeol, have even been found to repel fire ants. Research continues into beautyberry’s safety and best uses, so for now we suggest the pillowcase approach — add dried leaves to a cloth pouch placed in your pets’ beds, or lightly spray your pets’ beds with beautyberry tea.

More Tick Prevention Tricks

Fencing out deer, the primary host of adult Lyme-infected ticks, can help prevent ticks from reaching your land. Low-cost, plastic-mesh deer fencing is available online and at farm stores.

Ticks rarely inhabit lawns that are mowed regularly. Raking up leaves and composting them deprives overwintering ticks of shelter.

When hiking where tick populations are high, stay on the trails and dress defensively — pull your socks up over your pants. When only shorts will do, some people cut off the ankle sections of old socks, spray them with a repellent, and wear the tubes around their calves like tick-deterring leg warmers.

A study published in Experimental and Applied Acarology found that spraying outdoor areas with Safer-brand organic insecticidal soap in spring, when blacklegged deer tick nymphs are active, can provide treatment that is equally as effective as spraying with the insecticide chlorpyrifos.

After you’ve been outdoors, check your dogs for any ticks that may have latched on, and then make your way to a hot, soapy shower followed by a careful body check. You can kill any ticks that have attached to your clothing by immediately putting your clothes into the dryer for 15 minutes on the hottest setting, and then washing them. Most ticks are sensitive to dry heat, but may survive even the hottest wash.

Studies have shown that it usually takes an infected tick about 36 to 48 hours after biting its host to begin transmitting Lyme disease, which is why spotting and removing ticks as soon as possible is important. Ticks in the nymph stage — when they are about the size of poppy seeds — are active in late spring and early summer, and are the hardest to find on your body. These ticks pose the largest Lyme threat to humans and pets (see illustration in slideshow).

5/16/2016 11:13:22 AM

Great article! Free range chickens do a good job, but free range Guinea Fowl do a GREAT job! If you provide feed and close them up at night, it will help keep the Guineas from going feral, (they are essentially a game bird). Mine were free at night as well, and disappeared after 3 years. Guinea's will do less damage to the garden and seek out every bug other than squash bugs, (nothing seems to want those). I had a 150 ft. row of bush beans that did not have a single bean beetle hole in any leaf. I love those ugly, noisy birds. It helps if you hatch them yourself or can put the fertile Guinea eggs under a broody hen. Then they think they are chickens. The chickens that could get into the garden ate all my tomatoes, so you might need tunnels for them. I finally just planted extra tomato plants for the chickens and fenced off the ones I wanted to harvest from. I had no ticks on 10 acres and they kept the flies down in the horse pen as well. We were all happy.

8/13/2015 9:30:51 PM

Nice article. However, the statement that it takes at least 36 hours of tick attachment for Lyme disease transmission is incorrect. A recent journal article that did a review of transmission times of Lyme disease after tick attachment stated that in animal research, transmission can occur in <16 hours. Some human studies also found transmission times of less than 24 hours (and as little as 6 hours of tick attachment), but so far the minimum attachment time for transmission of infection has never been established. Lyme borreliosis: a review of data on transmission time after tick attachment. My own experience supports that tick attachment of less than 12 hours can result in a tick borne disease.

8/12/2015 8:03:05 AM

I was in remission from Chronic Lyme and got a bulls eye rash from a mosquito bite in Colorado.

7/27/2015 11:31:16 PM

Another tick disease, that most aren't aware of, is called Q Fever. It can have the same symptoms as Lyme, but it also can instead cause inflammation of the brain and heart, and can become very serious. I was treated for Lyme while we were waiting for the Lyme test results to return; it was negative. I was 46 at the time, very fit, and have always been physically active. Over about 2 months, I developed severe arthritis in all my joints. 3 months after the bite, I couldn't stand up out of a chair without using my arms to raise my body, and lost most of the strength in my hands. When I woke in the morning, my hands were like stiff claws. I couldn't do even low impact aerobic exercise, because of the pain in my knees, heels, and ankles. My doctor referred me to an infectious disease specialist, who ordered $6,200 in lab tests be done. She is familiar with Q Fever, and had a suspicion that was my illness. My result was strongly positive. The treatment is initially a round of doxycycline (also the treatment for Lyme, but the pre-diagnosis dosing didn't eliminate it). I must also add that my church also had healing prayer for me. I did recover quickly, but now a year later some of my symptoms are intermittently recurring. I've just gotten tested to see if I have the chronic "version". Most statistics show that this is a rare disease, and I became part of the statistical data that the county health department maintains. My doctor says it isn't rare if you test for it. Meaning that most doctors don't know about it and don't test for it. I wrote because I know many people are in chronic pain, and some are being treated for fibromyalgia, because their doctors can't find out what's wrong with them. If you are one of them, ask your doctor to check you for Q Fever.

7/27/2015 12:20:25 PM

It's also been proven that Lyme disease can be contracted from the bites of mosquitos and fleas. I'm sure that it will also be found that other biting insects can transmit it as well. It is also in the donated medical blood supply in this country, and the donated blood is not being tested for it at present. It can also be communicated through intimate human-to-human contact, and passed to a fetus or a child during the birth process. I believe that I contracted Lyme from a polio vaccine. There is false hope given by the statements commonly read that Lyme is only endemic in a few states. It is pretty well known that it can be caught anywhere, anytime, not just in certain areas during "tick season".

7/27/2015 8:33:04 AM

thanks for this. very informative. We are having a very bad year for ticks where I live in NJ. Now getting them in our yard, where we hadn't seen them previously. and we now have three kinds: Dog, deer, and lonestar. My dog has had Lyme, as well as another infection, the agent of which I can't recall. All of us have been bitten by deer ticks. Luckily, they are very irritating so the are generally found soon after biting (except on my dog). Possibly could miss the little nymphs, though. I worry about using Permethrin,as I have a small child. The tubes are new to me and I will try them. We have chipmunks and mice. I should trap more of the mice, I suppose. But, we will still get ticks from parks and other places.