The first report of ticks came into the store on Saturday, so it turns out my plan for writing about flea and tick protection is very timely. I apologize for the length of this article—I hope there’s information here you find useful.

First, fleas and ticks—especially ticks—carry diseases that can kill your dog, or at the very least make its life miserable: Lyme disease, Erlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, etc. They can kill YOU, too, or make your life miserable. So, control these pests!

About Ticks

Tick Species and Signs of Ticks

Ticks are pests that feed on the blood of animals and humans. The most common types are the deer tick (Black-legged tick), and the American dog tick. Most are reddish-brown to brown in appearance and have eight legs. Ticks are most likely to be seen in the warmer months (Spring through Fall) and they live in wooded, bushy and grassy areas.

Learn more about what ticks look like at their different life stages here:

About Fleas

Similar to ticks, fleas are small pests that feed on the blood of animals (and even humans). Fleas are a nuisance to pets as well as dangerous because they can transmit tapeworms and other diseases, and in extreme circumstances can cause anemia. Fleas breed very quickly and can spread not just on your pets, but in various stages in your carpets, furniture, even bedding! Fleas can be picked up anywhere outside, and since females can lay 40-50 eggs a day, an infestation can happen in a matter of days.

Products the Kill, Repel or Prevent Fleas and Ticks

You might want to consider natural or non-chemical options if you are not afraid to touch fleas or ticks. I’m not squeamish about touching fleas and ticks and I’ve pulled them off of all of us without leaving the head behind.

The chemical flea and tick control products are more powerful and work better (meaning, you’ll kill more pests) than the more natural products, but, in my opinion, it’s with risks that you should be aware of and accept when you choose to use them.

Total Dog Company will carry many options for flea and tick management, including natural and chemical, starting this week. What follows is the current roster, with notes about features of each.

Note: For all the products we sell, read and follow the label directions. Pay attention to the age of pets on which the product can safely be used, and whether or not the product is safe to use around cats if there are cats in your household. This website has some easy-to-understand information about various pesticides:

k9advtxK9 Advantix II (Bayer) Both kills and repels fleas, ticks, mosquitos, and chewing lice. Repels flies. Active ingredients: imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid, which you may recognize from recent reports on bee colony collapse, a neurotoxin; permethrin, also a neurotoxin; and pyriproxyfen, an insect growth regulator


Fiproguard (Sentry) Similar to Frontline. This product only kills (does not repel) fleas, ticks, and lice. I chose to carry this simpler version of the product because I believe customers should have a choice of a single chemical as opposed to a cocktail of chemicals. Active ingredient: fipronil (a neurotoxin

naturalchemFlea & Tick Spray (Natural Chemistry) Kills fleas and ticks on contact, and repels fleas, ticks, mosquitos and black flies for up to 7 days. Active ingredients: cinnamon oil, cedar wood oil, clove oil, vanillin.

Flea & Tick Shampoo (Natural Chemistry)
Same ingredients as the Spray above. Same effects.


Diatomaceous Earth Kills fleas and ticks on contact. DE is a white powdery substance made up of the fossilized remains of ancient hard-shelled algae called diatoms. While it feels benign to us, to a small insect like a flea or tick, its particles are sharp; they puncture the exoskeleton and kill the pest by dehydrating it. Thus, DE is a mechanical killer—you’ll never see a race of insects becoming “immune” to its effects. It can be used outside in the yard (less effective in moist environments), inside on carpeting or dog bedding, or—in limited quantities and frequency—on the dog, being careful not to overdo it because it is very drying. It’s a powder so don’t use it with wind or a fan blowing when you are applying it. You’ll need a duster or shaker or some kind of applicator and you’ll need to vacuum it up indoors or shampoo it off the dog—wait about 12 hours for optimum benefit.
Always use “food grade” DE, not “pool grade.” Also repels/kills ants.

Natural Repellent Collar (Alzoo) Four-month protection. Active ingredients: geraniol (geranium oil), citronella oil, cinnamon oil. I won’t carry chemical flea collars because they all come with the warning not to touch them. What? How can you not touch something that’s around the dog’s neck?

Natural Repellent Spot-on (Alzoo) Three vials of the repellent—how long it lasts depends on the size of the dog. Active ingredients: geraniol and peppermint oil. They recommend applying the product in several locations on the dog’s back over a few days.

Natural Bug Spray (Espana) A natural repellent spray from the Espana Silk people. Active ingredients: Eucalyptus, marigold, lemon grass, rosemary, cedarwood, peppermint, citronella, and pine oils. Can be sprayed on the animal (or person) and on the environment.

Brewer’s Yeast with Garlic (Four Paws) This works from the inside out. Chewable tablets (one per 10 pounds of body weight per day). Make the dog smell and/or taste bad to fleas and ticks. You may have read that garlic is toxic to dogs. Not exactly right. An “overdose” of garlic can cause a form of anemia, but that is in very large quantities. The amount in this product is safe.

shootagShooTag This is the most difficult one for me to describe because it sounds like something out of science fiction, but I’ve used this product and I think it works. The dog wears little plastic tags (one for fleas, one for ticks); they look like mini credit cards complete with the magnetic stripe. That stripe sets up a frequency around the dog that repels fleas and ticks. There’s a different frequency and hence a separate tag for every pest AND for every species using the tag. They make them for dogs, cats, horses, cattle, and people. We’ll carry the mosquito and tick tags for HUMANS, too.

Flea Comb (Safari)  A flea comb has teeth that are so close together that any fleas in its path are corralled by the teeth.  They are not trapped, so you have to be ready to do something with them if you happen to comb one or more out of the dog’s hair.  Have a bowl of soapy water ready and pull the fleas off the comb and dump them into the water.  If you just dunk the comb, you risk having the flea jump off the comb before it gets dunked.

We also carry a natural mosquito repellent bracelet for HUMANS—Dr. Rechell Anti-Mosquito Bracelet.

Homemade Flea and Tick Repellent Spray

Here is a recipe for homemade repellent spray I used this last summer and thought it was quite effective:


  • 20 drops lemongrass essential oil
  • 20 drops eucalyptus citridora
  • 4 ounces of water
  • Spray bottle

Mix all ingredients and shake well before spraying. I recommend Veriditas Botanicals essential oils because they are organic and eco-certified—very safe. I sprayed my dogs first thing every morning before they went out, focusing on their legs, tummies, and under their whiskers (I have schnauzers).

Signs Your Dog Has Fleas or Ticks

While fleas are easy to see (they’re about 1/8″ long), what makes them more challenging to locate than ticks is that they move around.  A common symptom of fleas is often the scratching.  If your dog is scratching excessively and it’s unusual, look closer.  On light-colored coats or light-colored bedding or carpeting, you may see the dark pepper-like specks that are the fleas’ droppings (if you put them on a white tissue and get them wet, they’ll bleed red because fleas eat blood).  If you part your dog’s hair with your fingers in several locations on your dog’s back, you may actually see a flea.  You’ll see them moving rather fluidly over, under, around, and through your dog’s hair.  If confronted, they can and will hop, sometimes great distances.

Ticks are trickier, as their bites aren’t always painful. You should always check your dog after a day outside, common areas are the head, neck, ears, and paws. They may be noticed as small bumps in a dog’s skin.

How to Remove and Dispose of a Tick

Tick RemovalIf you are using natural control products and you find a tick on your dog or yourself, it’s important to remove it as soon as possible. The chances of getting a disease from a tick go up the longer it is embedded, so make it part of your routine to check your dog and yourself at least once a day. Ticks that aren’t embedded—i.e., they’re crawling around—are a cinch: just grab them. If they are embedded, grasp as close as you can to the skin without squeezing the body of the tick—you’re aiming for the head. Grasp more with your fingernails than your fingertips. Then, pluck it out. You might bring a little piece of skin along with it, but that’s preferable to leaving some of the tick behind.

Now that you have it, you have to dispose of it. A tick’s body is hard—you can’t squish it by squeezing it or stepping on it. And don’t just throw it out the back door—it’ll come back to haunt you! If you want to save it for examination by an insect professional (if you want to find out what kind of tick it is, or have the tick in case the dog comes down with disease symptoms) put it in a zip-lock baggie and zip it shut. Eventually the tick will run out of air and die, and until then, it won’t be able to get out of the baggie. Otherwise, have a jar of rubbing alcohol or soapy water handy and drop the tick into the jar. Or flush it down the toilet. Or cut it in half with scissors. Or all of the above.