The Facts About Fleas and Ticks
Animal Clinic of Verona
Fleas and ticks are a major concern in the warmer months. If you have a pet, they are going to be exposed. Whether it be you walking through your own yard and into the house, or if you have an indoor/outdoor pet who encounters the pests themselves.
Fleas are insects that are ubiquitous in the environment – meaning they can be found almost everywhere. There are more than 2000 species of fleas, but the common cat flea (ctenocephalides felis) is the one that most commonly afflicts dogs and cats. They prefer warm, humid conditions, so infestations are typically worse during mid to late summer and early fall, in some parts of the country. A disease of concern that can be caused by fleas is flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), which is a severe allergic reaction to flea bites. If the itching is bad enough, those bites can become inflamed and infected.
Ticks are not insects, they are closely related to spiders, scorpions, and mites. There are approximately 80 tick species found in the United States, but only a handful of them are of real concern to pets and people. These species include, the brown dog dick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) and the Lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum). The Brown Dog Tick is the only one that complete its entire life cycle on a host. Tick bites can be painful and irritating, but the real concern with ticks is the number of serious diseases they can transmit, such as Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, erlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. These diseases can cause significant illness and even death in both pets and people.
There are many ways to help combat the problems that these parasites pose. Mostly medications and treatments that you can get from your vet. These products are typically administered orally in tablet form or topically by applying the medication as a fluid directly to the animal’s skin – generally between the shoulder blades or at the base of the neck. In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend more than one product to most effectively kill fleas and break the flea life cycle.
If you already have an established infestation (which can happen very easily), then you treat the pet and the environment, sometimes even the yard, to get it under control.
As far as ticks are concerned, many of the flea medications now treat ticks as well as fleas. The best thing to do with ticks is to avoid getting them all together, so it’s important to focus on prevention. Keeping pets out of “tick habitats,” such as heavily wooded areas or tall grass as much as possible, and creating tick-free zones in your yard by keeping grass mown short and bushes cut back. Ticks like moist areas, so remove leaf litter from around your house. If necessary, you may need to treat your backyard with a pesticide to reduce the number of ticks. Try to get into the habit of performing a “tick check” on your pet at least once a day, especially if he or she has access to wooded or grassy areas where ticks may lurk. If you find a tick, grasp it with a pair of tweezers as close to the mouth parts as you can reach. Exert a gentle, steady pressure until the tick lets go. There are also tick removal tools that are very easy to use. Never remove a tick using your bare fingers. Avoid using lighter fluid, matches, or other products that may irritate the skin or cause other injuries to your pet. When in doubt, ask your veterinary care team for assistance removing the tick.
Never use flea control products intended for dogs, on cats. Some medications can be highly toxic to cats. Only use products on the species for which they are intended, and follow all label instructions.