With all the advertising aimed at eradicating outdoor insects that hit the air waves and mail boxes this time of year, it’s tempting to fall for the messages in the frenzied marketing that try to scare you into thinking that just venturing outside to your garden or yard with your family and pets could be life-threatening.

Yes, ticks are out there, but there are ways to protect yourselves and your pets from disease carried by them while also safeguarding the environment than turning to pesticides pushed heavily by the chemical industry.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi. It is spread by a number of different ticks, but the deer tick is the most common carrier. Ticks pick the disease up from the blood of mice and then can pass on the bacteria to humans or pets.

Conventional pesticides have been ineffective and create risks for people and the environment.

Although public health authorities recommend use of acaricides to control tick populations in yards, the effectiveness of these pesticides to prevent tick bites or human tick-borne diseases in unknown and broad spectrum insecticide sprays can kill butterflies, other pollinators and insects.

For a pesticide to work, it must come in contact with the tick or be consumed by the pest. Ticks, however, do not eat vegetation and spend most of their lives in sheltered areas, like mouse burrows, and do not come in contact with pesticides.

Tick control boxes attract mice that are then dosed with insecticides they then spread around the environment, including fipronil, which is toxic to birds, fish and bees. They also contain other inert ingredients not required to be disclosed.

The safest way to reduce the tick population is by discouraging mice around your home.

Beyond Pesticides, a D.C.-based nonprofit, recommends:

  • Remove piles of leaves or other debris that provide shelter for mice.
  • Clean around bushes and under trees.
  • Store wood piles by elevating them and keeping them away from your home.
  • Keep your trash in metal containers with tightly closed lids.
  • Rub a masking tape lint roll over trunks and heads of small cats and dogs to remove ticks.

There are also chemical-free ways to protect dogs and cats from ticks. Popular flea and tick repellents rely on chemicals such as fipronil, which the Environmental Protection Agency says can cause nervous system and thyroid toxicity, kidney damage and convulsions. Fluralaner, used in the popular flea and tick pill Bravecto, is a systemic insecticide and acaricide and its side effects including vomiting and diarrhea as well as seizures and skin irritation. Pyrethrins and pyrethroids are also common ingredients in pharmaceutical flea and tick products as well as insecticide ingredients such as imidacloprid.

You can avoid all of those chemicals by using natural flea and tick products with essential oils, or geraniol, a biodegradable ingredient that’s safe to use and safe for the environment and can be found in natural products sold in local pet supply stores.

To keep yourself safe from ticks wear long, light colored clothing, apply natural tick repellents made from essential oils such as lemongrass, and check yourself and your pets thoroughly for ticks each day.

For more on natural products for pets read FoA President Priscilla Feral’s In My View blog.