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Here's how to keep the nasty bloodsuckers at bay with the least possible risk to you and your pets

Q. Is there any product thatcan be put on lawns to kill ticks? I am against chemicals, because wehave a cat, a golden retriever and a koi pond. But I am very afraid ofticks and will not even go on my grass because I don't want to riskgetting Lyme disease. (Our dog gets a Lyme vaccination every year.) Iknow you have stated that ticks are not found on lawns, but my dog hadsurgery, and I found a tick on the sticky tape holding the plastic bagon her paw. I did read your tick advice from last year,and found a garlic-based mosquito repelling lawn spray at a local feedstore. But the man there recommended Zodiac yard spray instead. Is thissafe for a dog and cat that play on the grass?
                            ---D. N. in NJ

A.    Don't feelbad, D.N.; many people greatly fear ticks. But it sounds like at leastsome of your fears are misdirected. I urge you to read up on the habitsof these nasty little blood suckers; the knowledge you gain may or maynot help you get over a little of your fear, but it will certainly helpyou better know when to be afraid.

For instance, ticks do not hunt on groomed lawns; they climb plants afoot or two high and wait for a mammal to come along they can attachthemselves to. The rare tick on a lawn could have just fallen off apet, wild animal, human or other victim; or (folks with parasitosis maywant to skip to the next paragraph here) dropped down off a treebranch, which ticks frequently do in search of prey. People pick up thevast majority of ticks walking through woods, weeds or brush; well-keptlawns are pretty safe.

Last year's Question of the Week on ticks went into a lot of detail onpersonal protection; click hereto read that archived advice, and then you can come back and continuereading this year's follow up.

Oh, and I hope you're aware that your dog's vaccine doesn't do a thingto prevent him from being bitten by ticks or bringing them into thehouse; only a specific flea and tick product can do that. Bill Quarles,director of the Bio Integral Research Center (BIRC in Berkeley,California—specialists in 'least toxic' controls for noxious pests—andDr. Lisa Murphy, assistant professor of toxicology at the University ofPennsylvania Veterinary School's New Bolton Center, both recommend"Frontline", one of those newer-style 'spot on' flea and tickrepellants.

Dr. Murphy explains that Frontline's active ingredient, fipronil, bindsGABA receptors, whose shape in mammals is vastly different from thoseof fleas and ticks, making it safe for us but toxic to those—are youready?—"ectoparasites".
(WHO you gonna call?! TICK—Busters!" Sorry.)  

Anyway, both Dr. Murphy and Bill Quarles assure me that, right now, itis the product that most reliably kills fleas and ticks with the mostminimal risk to you and your pets. (Both also add that they are onlyspeaking of Frontline—which is only available by prescription from aveterinarian—and share serious concerns about the active ingredients insome of the other 'spot on' type flea and tick treatments out there.)

Yes, it is HIGHLY unusual for me to recommend ANY synthetic chemical.But ticks pose real health problems, and no good organic controls yetexist. So, to borrow a favorite phrase from my good buddy Bill Quarles,this is the 'least toxic' method we know of right now.

That Zodiac yard spray is not. Its active ingredient is permethrin, asynthetic chemical I do recommend in two very different ways to controlticks, but NOT in a lawn spray, where it poses a serious risk to yourcat, a huge one to your fish, and an unknown but very real one to you.It would be much wiser to treat some clothes with one of the .5%permethrin sprays we recommend in last year'sQuestion and wear them when you go outdoors. Ticks will not comenear you; you only spray your clothing, not your skin or yourenvironment; and one treatment lasts two weeks, even when the clothesare washed.  

Q. Hi Mike: I read your Question of theWeek  recommending the use of "tick tubes" and am consideringpurchasing some. However, I have read that their active ingredient,permethrin, is extremely toxic to cats. I have two indoor/outdoor catsthat often hunt mice. If a cat eats a mouse that has been in contactwith one of the treated cotton balls, will they be affected?  
                ---Kathy in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Thank you, Kath. I'll be perfectly honest here—I know about thepotential for permethrin to cause problems for cats, have oftenwondered about this myself, but have kind of avoided dealing with it.However, you've now shamed me into seeking out an answer, which theaforementioned Dr. Murphy has been kind enough to provide.

Damminix Tick Tubes are little cardboard tubes filled with cotton balls that have been soaked with a 7.4% concentration of permethrin. Field mice—the most reliable source of the ticks that carry Lyme disease—take the cotton back to their nests to use as bedding, where the permethrin kills any ticks that come into that nest. Sold in sets of 24, the tubes are available at some retail outlets, and you can order them on the web. You'll find lots more info at

Yes, there have been reports of cats having very bad reactions topermethrin. Luckily, Dr. Murphy explains that these have caused byhighly concentrated permethrin products (a whopping 45 to 65%!) meantto only be applied to dogs, like 'Hartz Control One Spot' and 'ZodiacFleatrol Spot On'. But because they are the same kind of 'spot on'product as Frontline, and because the warnings on those tiny littlepackages can be hard to read, people have mistakenly used them onfelines. "And just one drop is enough to cause serious problems for acat", warns Dr. Murphy. In fact, she advises cat owners not to even usethem on their dogs.  "A cat could be badly injured just rubbingagainst a dog that's been treated with a 45% permethrin product", shewarns.

But she doesn't feel the tick tube cotton balls will cause cats anysuch problem; the dose of permethrin is much lower, and it isn'tactually applied to the mouse. Likewise, she has no problem with thehome-made 'tick-proofing mouse runs' we described last year,where you line the inside of a pipe with fabric treated with a .5%clothing spray (or Garden's Alive "Pyola",which is also a .5% conentration of permethrin when mixed with water atthe recommend level) to give any mice that hide inside a de-ticking."That low a dose is very safe", she says.

But she adds that she also simply prefers fipronil to permethrin as aflea and tick controller. In fact, were it not a violation of Federallaw to recommend any non-labeled use of a pesticide, we might evensuggest using a drop of fipronil on cotton balls or pipe lining insteadof permetrhin. Unfortunately, that Federal law prevents us from makingsuch a suggestion. Ahem.

You Bet Your Garden   Question of the Week  ©2005Mike McGrath

HelpfulProducts From Gardens Alive!
Try these goods to help Terminate Terrifying Ticks Today!

LiquidRotenone with Pyrethrin
Spray Pesticide
Rotenone and Pyrethrin is an Effective Broad-spectrum combination. Thisis a very handy pesticide which is known to even Kill Ticks!. Alsokills Aphids, thrips, Japanese beetles, and much more!

Insecticidal Spray
Pyola is a spray that combines Pyrethrin, a popular insecticide derivedfrom pyrethrum flowers, with canola oil. Try a little of this in yourhome made "Tick Traps!"

Pest Barrier Sticky Glue

Non-toxic Barrier to catch pests
Place around trees, shrubs, vines, and even your picnic table! A 2 inchband of glue stops things like ants, beetles, mites - Virtually allcrawling insects.