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Bug off: What to know about tick season in the Pacific Northwest

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. It’s also the time of year when the blood-sucking parasites are most active.

A person wearing hiking gear walks uphill through tall green grass.

Perform daily checks after spending time outside and take a shower to remove ticks before they attach.

Photo by Cambrie Juarez, PDXtoday

Table of Contents

Exploring the great outdoors has many wonderful benefits, but one thing we can all agree isn’t one of them? Ticks.

The tiny arthropods are found all over the world. A handful of species bite and feed on the blood of people and pets, transmitting bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can lead to various illnesses like Lyme disease. Here in the Pacific Northwest, they’re most active in spring and early summer.

Don’t let them deter you from enjoying nature. Just like brushing invasive weed seeds off your boots before and after a hike, tick preparedness is part of responsible outdoor etiquette.

What to look for

The most common ticks in Oregon that feed on humans and animals are the American dog tick, the Pacific Coast tick, the Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the western blacklegged tick. The latter is the most common culprit when it comes to spreading Lyme disease, though less than 10% are thought to carry the bacterium and cases are rare.

Generally, an unfed adult tick is about the size of an apple seed. Contact your local OSU Extension office for help with identification or file a request online.

A collage of two photos showing different tick species.

Left, an adult female western blacklegged tick; right, an adult female American dog tick.

Photos via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

How to protect yourself and your pets

Ticks hang out in tall grass, brush, and wooded areas, so sticking to marked trails is key. Protect your skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, close-toed shoes, and tucking pants into socks. You can also use repellent. Light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot a tick.

For pets, flea-and-tick treatments, shampoos, and special combs are available. Ask your veterinarian which is best for your animal and take time to thoroughly check your pet’s fur after an outing.

Even if you’re careful, a tick may still find a way to hitch a ride and get a meal. You’ll need to carefully follow a set of steps to remove it.

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