Few things will bring terror to a dog lover’s life like ticks and the specter of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF).  In Arizona, this is not just an academic study, but a very real concern. A great deal of effort has gone into developing a plan to protect not just your dog, but also the owners and their yards from becoming habitats of the ticks that carry this insidious disease.

What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?  Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is a tick borne disease caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii. This organism can be the cause of a potentially fatal human illness and is transmitted directly to humans from the bite of an infected tick species. Once bitten, the typical symptoms include: fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and muscle pain. A rash may also develop, often after the first few days, although in some patients, the rash never develops at all.  Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be a severe or even fatal illness if not treated in the first few days the symptoms are evident or a diagnosis is made. The most positive aspect to RMSF and other tick borne diseases is that they are all preventable.

The most effective strategy to prevent/control ticks is a multi-phase approach. This approach includes:

  • Using appropriate spot-on treatments, tick collars, sprays, or dips to control ticks on pets. This is your first line of defense for your pet. Most over-the-counter products are just as effective as those you can obtain from your veterinarian. Just be sure to follow the label and your veterinarian’s instructions. (Caution: these products are not recommended for puppies or kittens under the age of 12 weeks!)
  • Appropriate professional pesticides are necessary to control ticks in your yard. Do it yourself products are available, but application equipment is often inadequate to the task. Use a pest control service. Do not attempt to do it yourself. Application of products for tick control can be tricky, and due to the reproductive cycles of ticks, repeated treatment are typically required.
  • Remove tick habitats on your property, such as leaf litter, overgrown brush, and standing yard clutter (old furniture, mattresses, appliances, etc.).

Limiting exposure to ticks is presently the most effective method of prevention of tick-transmitted diseases.

Landscaping Suggestions Strategies and Information

Some actions to consider in an integrated management approach include:

  • Keep grass mowed on a regular basis to an appropriate height.
  • Remove leaf litter, brush and weeds regularly, especially around the edge of the lawn.
  • Restrict the use of groundcover, in areas frequented by family and roaming pets.
  • Remove brush and leaves around stonewalls and wood piles.
  • Discourage rodent activity. Keep all areas directly around the house neat and clean, ensuring to seal all small openings into the house itself.
  • Keep firewood piles and bird feeders away from the house.
  • Trim tree branches and shrubs around the lawn edge to let in more sunlight.
  • Adopt hardscape and xeriscape landscaping techniques.
  • Consider a pesticide application as a targeted barrier treatment.

Please keep in mind, within the lawn, the majority of ticks (82%) are located within 3 yards of the lawn perimeter, particularly along fence lines, stone walls, or ornamental plantings. Most of your exposure potential is going to be within that area. Limiting your pet’s and your time in that area will reduce your chances of encountering ticks.

Good Luck!

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