The warmer than usual winter and early spring have meant a surge of activity among people, plant, and animals, and those pesty critters called ticks, which can carry the threat of Lyme disease. If you want an alternative to chemicals to repel these pests, this may be the year you try natural tick repellents.
Some tick repellents are hazardous
If you live near or in wooded, grassy, or other natural areas or you spend your vacation in such places, one of your rituals during spring and summer months should include checking for ticks on yourself, your family, and your pets. Ticks can carry a number of diseases, perhaps most notably Lyme disease (the most common tick-borne disease in the Northern hemisphere), as well as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and Colorado tick fever, among others.
A number of chemical tick repellents are on the market, including DEET and permethrin. DEET is applied directly to the skin and has been associated with neurological damage in humans, including slurred speech, confusion, and seizures.
Permethrin is an insecticide derived from a chemical in chrysanthemums, and it is sprayed on clothing because it is deactivated when it interacts with oils on the skin. It can irritate the eyes if not used correctly.
Natural tick repellents are easy to make
Here are a few natural tick repellents you can make at home for yourself and for your pets. You should get a spray bottle (one that holds at least 16 oz) for some of these combinations.
- In a small container or bowl, combine 4 tablespoons vegetable oil or almond oil, 2 tablespoons aloe vera gel, and 30 to 40 drops geranium essential oil. Mix it well and use an eye dropper to apply the mixture to your skin and rub it in. You can also apply two to three drops to your dog’s collar to repel ticks.
- Make the same combination but use lavender essential oil instead of geranium. You can also use half geranium and half lavender essential oils.
- Combine 1 cup water, ½ cup apple cider vinegar, and 6 to 10 drops of geranium or lavender essential oil in a spray bottle. This tick repellent can be sprayed on clothing, your pet’s fur, your skin, and your lawn.
- Neem oil is an effective tick repellent for both humans and dogs, but you must use the mixture within 8 hours of preparing it, because the neem oil will lose its potency. First combine 16 ounces of warm water with 2 ml of mild detergent. Slowly add 5 ml of neem oil and stir vigorously. Use the mixture in a spray bottle. This tick repellent can be applied to the skin and to a dog’s fur.
- Another way to use neem is to bring 2 cups of water to a boil and add ½ cup dried neem leaves to the water. Steep the leaves for one hour, then strain off the liquid into a spray bottle. This neem water can be used on clothing, skin, and pets (rub into their fur). Avoid contact with the eyes or ears on pets and yourself.
- Ticks are not fond of citrus, so you can make a citrus tick repellent. Boil 2 cups of water and add any combination of 2 sliced citrus fruits: lemons, limes, oranges, or grapefruit. Allow the mixture to boil for about a minute, then simmer for one hour. Remove the fruit and put the liquid through a strainer. Pour into a spray bottle and use on your skin, your pet’s fur, and on your lawn.
- Combine 16 ounces of water and 20 to 25 crops of peppermint essential oil in a spray bottle and spritz onto clothing, your dog’s fur, and your lawn.
Most essential oils are toxic to cats and should not be used to repel ticks. The natural tick repellents using vinegar, citrus, and neem leaves should be safe, but talk to your vet before using any type of tick repellent on your cat.
Along with using a tick repellent, other measures you should take during tick season is to regularly inspect yourself and your pets soon after you have been outdoors. If you discover a tick on yourself or your pet, remove it carefully using tweezers.
Ticks can attach themselves to both you and your pets, possibly exposing you and them to Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Natural tick repellents such as those noted here may help protect you and your family from these pests.
Image: Wikimedia Commons