Protect Your Pet from Fleas and Ticks
By: Amanda Epley
When spending time with your pet outside, the last thing you want to worry about is protection from fleas and ticks. As long as you take the proper precautions, you and your pet can enjoy the great outdoors together.
We tend to talk about (and treat) fleas and ticks together, but they are two distinct organisms that can cause different illnesses. Let’s review fleas first.
Fleas are wingless insects that can jump extremely far. They tend to live on a single host throughout their lifetime, and only the adults feed on the host.
Fleas Like Heat
Fleas thrive in warm climates and high humidity, meaning that summer in the South is their prime season. Regions that have an average temperature of 65 degrees or higher are considered to be on “High Flea Alert.” For the South, that’s most days out of the year! While pet owners in other regions may only need to treat their pets seasonally for fleas, pet owners in the South are advised to administer preventative flea treatment all year round.
Health Problems Caused by Fleas
While it may be common knowledge that fleas can cause excessive itching and discomfort for dogs and cats, these pests can cause more serious health issues if left untreated.
The constant scratching can result in hot spots developing on your pet’s skin, which can become even more painful and irritated. To soothe irritated skin, try an all-natural shampoo or spray.
Since fleas are blood-sucking parasites, your pet can become anemic if he is bitten by several fleas at once or if the fleas go unnoticed for too long. This can be especially dangerous for puppies and smaller dogs. Watch out for symptoms like lethargy, low body temperature, and pale gums. If you see these signs, take your pet to your veterinarian immediately, as anemia can lead to other serious medical problems if left untreated.
Bartonella is a common parasite carried by fleas, and it can infect both dogs and cats. Possible symptoms include vomiting, fever, diarrhea, and swollen lymph nodes. If you notice any of these symptoms, take your pet to the vet immediately.
If your pet accidentally swallows a flea, a tapeworm could potentially develop in your pet’s intestinal tract. You may see fragments of the tapeworm in your pet’s waste. If you suspect your pet has a tapeworm, take him to the vet to confirm the diagnosis and provide deworming treatment.
Ticks are arachnids that can prey upon several different hosts. Unlike fleas, the tick larvae and nymphs can also feed on hosts.
Tick Season Lasts All Year
According to the CDC, 2017 is projected to be one of the worst tick seasons in years. Ticks can survive near-freezing temperatures, so they could potentially affect your pet at any time during the year. If your pet spends a lot of time outside, then you should provide constant protection from tick bites.
Common Tick-Borne Illnesses
The most common ticks found in the South and the East Coast are the American Dog Tick, the Brown Dog Tick, the Deer Tick, and the Lone Star Tick.
The Brown Dog Tick can cause Ehrlichiosis, a potentially fatal disease in which bacteria attack blood cells. This disease is incredibly difficult to diagnose, but it can be easily prevented with an oral or topical treatment.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
The American Dog Tick and Lone Star Tick can carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, one of the most common tick-borne illnesses that can affect dogs and humans. Purebred dogs and German Shepherds, in particular, are more likely to have a severe reaction to the R. rickettsii organism. Possible symptoms include lethargy, depression, irregular heartbeat, discolored spots on the skin, and loss of coordination.
Deer Ticks can cause Lyme disease, which affects dogs, cats, and people differently. Dogs typically develop symptoms 2 to 5 months after being bitten by an infected tick. Although it is rare for cats to develop Lyme disease, it is still possible. The most common symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs are a fever between 103° and 105°, swelling in joints, lethargy, loss of appetite, and swollen lymph nodes.
Treatment for Tick-Borne Illnesses
If your dog shows any of the signs or symptoms mentioned above, take him to a veterinarian immediately. If you find any ticks on your pet or in your home, be sure to mention that to your vet when giving a medical history. Your vet will administer the proper treatment plan based on the severity of your pet’s condition.
Tips to Remove a Tick
If you can’t make it to the vet immediately, you can remove a tick at home yourself. Be sure to use fine-tipped tweezers and avoid crushing the tick as you remove it. If you crush the tick’s body, you risk introducing more harmful bacteria into your pet’s bloodstream.
Do not apply any potential irritants to the tick, including alcohol, a hot match, or petroleum jelly. These substances can actually make the condition worse, as the tick may release more bacteria into the wound.
- Grasp the tick by the head, not the body. Get your tweezers as close as possible to the surface of the skin.
- In a firm, steady movement, pull the tick directly outward. Do not rotate the tweezers as you pull.
- Put the tick in a jar of alcohol after you remove it. Do not put the tick in the trash can or flush it down the toilet.
- Gently clean the bite wound with a disinfectant. Apply an antibiotic ointment to the clean area as a precaution.
- Wash your hands thoroughly.
Despite causing potentially serious illnesses, flea and tick issues are relatively easy to prevent with the proper treatment. Thankfully, there are several options available for pet owners to protect pets from both fleas and ticks with simple doses and long-term coverage.
For more information on safe, effective treatment plans for your pet, visit one of our stores and speak with one of our pet care experts.