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Protecting Your Pets from Fleas and Ticks

The summer months bring temperate weather, longer days, and many opportunities for adventure. Unfortunately, this is also the time of year when outbreaks of external parasites, namely fleas and ticks, are most prevalent. In order to prepare, there are certain precautions which every pet-parent should take.

Fleas

Best recognized as dark brown, sesame seed shaped parasites that quickly dash around the surface of your pet’s skin, fleas are typically contracted in areas frequented by other animals1. Outside of the home, this could refer to the park, kennels, the groomer, or even your backyard (especially if there is excessive shrubbery and vegetation)2. Humans can also be unwitting flea carriers if they have visited flea-infested areas.

Regardless of where the fleas originated, it is important to identify and treat them as soon as possible. Most pet owners do not notice fleas until their pet is obviously uncomfortable—scratching the same “hotspot” repeatedly until their skin becomes red and irritated1. If you suspect your pet has encountered fleas, it helps to look for “flea dirt”, or tiny black flea excrement scattered through your pet’s coat.

The sooner you notice fleas on your pet, the easier it is to prevent an infestation. Within 24 hours of a female flea selecting your pet as a host, it will begin producing up to 50 eggs per day1. These eggs will fall off your pet and will remain on your floor, furniture, or any outdoor areas until they hatch and burrow into carpets for their larval stage, and eventually emerge as adults to latch onto a host animal.

If you notice your pet has contracted fleas, speed is your best weapon. Washing your pet with shampoo or Dawn dish soap is an intuitive and helpful first response. However, a lot of time should also be dedicated to cleaning your home—especially those areas which your pet frequents (i.e. their pet bed)3 . By destroying the flea eggs and larvae, you can greatly reduce the chances of your pet becoming infested again.

Treatment is essential, especially in small and/or young animals who may become anemic from the lower blood count. Though fleas, like all parasites, are capable of transmitting infectious diseases to pets and humans, this rarely happens. More threatening, however, is the constant irritation and discomfort your pet will experience with continual scratching and biting as they attempt to remove the fleas.

It is best to be wary of “natural” parasite control treatments, such as lavender or eucalyptus oils, as they may cause allergic reactions in pets. The best way to treat fleas is to administer a medication suggested by your vet, to regularly use a flea comb to catch and drown fleas, habitually wash both your pet and their bedding, and frequently vacuum around your home to kill any eggs embedded in the carpet.

Ticks

Ticks are tiny arachnids which require blood meals for most of their life cycles. Once they latch onto your pet, an adult tick can ingest up to 100 times its weight in blood per day1. In cases of infestation, this can cause anemia in small dogs and cats. The biggest threat ticks pose, however, is in their transmission of infectious diseases, such as Lyme Disease, Ehrlichia, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever1. Ask your veterinarian about vaccinating your dog against Lyme Disease.

If you take your pet to tick-prone areas, such as heavily wooded forests and parks, then it is imperative to scan your pet’s skin for ticks as soon as you are back home; the sooner you remove ticks, the better, as they will have less time to spread diseases to your pet. When looking for ticks, check your dog’s neck, ears, legs, and toes, and your cat’s face and neck1. If you find a tick on your pet, it is best to remove it as soon as possible in order to prevent any of the aforementioned diseases, infection, and/or irritation of your pet’s skin.

Tick removal must be conducted with a great deal of care. When removing a tick, try to get your tweezers as close to the pet’s skin as possible and gently pull the tick free. If the tick is crushed or jerked at while still attached to your pet, there is the risk that its mouth pieces will not be fully removed, resulting in a possible infection1. Attempting to smother the tick with petroleum jelly or burning the tick will likely result in the tick producing irregular saliva, increasing your pet’s risk of contracting disease1.

If you suspect that your pet has had the tick for a while, storing the extracted tick in a plastic bag is a smart idea; if your pet starts to exhibit symptoms of illness, showing the tick to your vet will make it easier for him or her to diagnose your pet. If, after a few weeks your pet is without symptoms, then it is safe to dispose of the tick.

Keeping bushes and shrubbery trimmed in your backyard may prevent your pet from getting a tick at home. Regularly inspecting your pet’s coat is also a sure way to keep your pet safe.

Preventatives

To ensure your pet’s safety, it is best to get your pet on a good year round flea and tick preventative. Speaking to your veterinarian for a recommendation is your safest option, as he or she will be able to prescribe a preventative best suited to your pet’s lifestyle4. For instance, if your dog is active outside and loves to swim, he may benefit more from an oral preventative rather than a topical one. There are also granular products that can be spread on your yard to kill fleas and ticks as well as other insects for several months. This will help to lessen the chances of your pet from picking up fleas and ticks in your own yard.

It is not advisable to use two medications for flea and tick removal simultaneously. Most products are designed to prevent both fleas and ticks in addition to killing eggs. Certain flea/tick preventions work much better than others. It is also important to be cautious about cheaper prevention that you can find over the counter as some may be harmful to your pet. If you have additional questions, contact your veterinarian to discuss options for your particular situation.

Takeaway Points

  • Frequently check your pet’s coat for fleas or ticks (especially after returning from outside adventures).
  • In the case of fleas, cleaning your house is just as important as cleaning your pet to stop infestation.
  • Removing ticks must be done carefully and quickly.
  • Speaking with your vet about finding an appropriate flea and tick preventative is the best way to keep your pet safe all year long.

Summer should be spent playing outside, taking long walks, and enjoying the extra hours of daylight with your pets. By taking these simple steps to prevent, identify, and eliminate external parasites, you will have more time to relax and make the most of the nice weather rather than worry about diseases or infestation.

References

  1. " External Parasites." Accessed April 12, 2017. https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/externalparasites.aspx
  2. PetMD, LLC. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2017, from http://www.petmd.com/dog/parasites/evr_dg_how_did_my_dog_get_fleas_and-or_ticks
  3. PetMD. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2017, from http://www.petmd.com/dog/slideshows/parasites/10-ways-to-stop-fleas-from-biting-your-dog
  4. Hillestad, K., DVM. (n.d.). Using Flea and Tick Products Together for Dogs. Retrieved April 12, 2017, from http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2%2B2111&aid=2616