Do you have a favorite parasite in your life? Some mooching blood-sucking, free-loading friend or relative who’s sucking you dry, but just won’t leave? Then send them a gift-wrapped hint with one of these awesome and cuddly plush dolls from

Since this is a gundogs blog, how about a giant tick plush doll? Or perhaps a cute little flea? If that’s not creepy enough, how about a darling bed bug? A louse? Maggot, maybe? Yes, it’s fairly disgusting, but today I have bloodsuckers on the mind. Why? Because I just got in from a walk with the dogs, and picked up an astounding number of hitchhikers. It’s going to be a bad tick year. Blame rain and winter warmth.

I reside just a few miles east of the 100th Meridian, that historical dividing line between the arid shortgrass prairie that lies west of the 100th and the semi-arid mixed-grass country to the east. My area averages a little over 20 inches of precipitation a year. Last year, however, was anything but average. In 2011, according to the rain gauge at my house, we received slightly less than 12 inches of rain for the entire year, combined with Mars-like summer temps for record-setting lengths of time. As a result, virtually all of my dog training, duck hunting and bird hunting got cooked away last year.

There was, however, a small silver lining: Not once did I get bitten by a mosquito, nor did I ever find a tick on any of my dogs. Granted, I have my dogs on heartworm and flea/tick medication year-round, regardless of the weather, but still, it’s unusual to not find any ticks at all, even on treated dogs. The mosquitoes (and subsequent heartworm risk) is easily explained away: no standing water, no winged vermin. The lack of ticks last year? I’m no expert on pestilence, but I suspect the lack of moisture and the heat had at least something to do with it.

But oh, what a difference a year makes. This year, according to the rain gauge at my house, we’ve received almost 13 inches of rain (more than all of last year) since the end of January, when the skies suddenly opened up and began making up for lost time. The lakes and ponds are full, the prairie is lush, and big chunks of the southern plains that last year resembled the planet Dune now look more like Ireland.

But there’s a price to pay for all that moisture. Huge, primordial clouds of mosquitoes, with larva-infested standing water everywhere. And all that lush grass? Every blade of it covered with blood-sucking little buggers, just waiting to hitch a ride. And it’s not just where I live. While it may seem a cruel joke for all you northeasterners under winter storm warnings right now, but this past nationwide non-winter means flea, tick and heartworm season is going to be especially bad this year for gundog owners.

I live in a relatively not-too-bad tick area, and I normally get by with just the monthly dose of my preferred topical flea/tick medication, heartworm meds and that’s it. In mild years I find I can even stretch that out a little farther between dosings, because that stuff ‘aint cheap. But not this year. Based on what I’ve experienced so far, I’m thinking I may have to combine a topical treatment with a collar to keep the ticks off my dogs. I can only imagine how you guys in the northeast and south are going to have it this year.

What’s the flea/tick situation in your area this year, and what’s the best way you’ve found to deal with it? Topical treatment? Collar? Combo? How about treatment of your yard/kennel area? Any tips or suggestions?