Just the mention of fleas or ticks can cause any pet owner, and even non-pet owner, to shudder with disgust or even a bit of fear. Unfortunately, these parasites are here to stay, and it is likely that any dog or cat owner will have to deal with one, if not both, of these pests at some point. It is important that all pet owners be aware of these parasites, the harm they can cause to their pet, and ways to control them on the pet and in the environment.
Fleas are so common that more than half of all skin problems on pets are caused by fleas. An animal that is infested with fleas will scratch and bite aggressively at their skin and coat, especially around the lower back, legs, and belly area. Fleas are easy to see by parting the fur and looking at the skin where tiny brown, oval shaped creatures can be seen moving quickly away from the disturbed area. Little dark black spots can also be found on an infested pet’s skin, and when these spots are placed on a wet paper towel, they will stain the towel a dark red. These are flea feces. Seeing fleas or flea feces on any pet is a sign to treat the pet and anywhere the pet has been in the house with insecticides as soon as possible because where there is one flea, at least a hundred more are alive on the pet or developing somewhere in the house.
Fleas go through four stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. This life cycle can be as short as two weeks or as long as eight months or more. When a female adult flea gets on a pet and feeds, she begins to lay eggs. The eggs drop off the pet and if they land in a spot with material, such as carpeting or furniture, they will quickly develop into the larva and then the pupa stage which they can remain in for many months until a host, like a pet or human, is detected by movement or warmth. This is why when someone comes home with their pet after they have been away on vacation that the house really seems to have a very bad infestation because the pupae were waiting for movement before developing into adults, which they can do in seconds. It is therefore important to treat the pet and the environment when these infestations occur.
Ticks are definitely the worst of these two parasites because while fleas can certainly cause skin problems, and if eaten can give pets tapeworms, or in very bad cases anemia, ticks can carry many types of diseases including canine ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and the most commonly known disease, Lyme, among a few others. Different types of ticks can carry different diseases, and some are more common in certain areas of the country than others. It is extremely important that pet owners protect their pets from ticks to keep them from being infected with these potentially deadly diseases. Ticks grab on to anything that wanders by them, whether it is a mouse, deer, dog, cat, or human. Once adult ticks feed, they fall off and lay eggs. The eggs then hatch into larvae, which look exactly like a tick but are extremely small, then the larvae feed on blood and develop into nymphs, which still look like a tick but sized between a larva and adult, and then after the nymph feeds on blood it develops into an adult. Ticks become infected with diseases like Lyme when they feed on an animal that has that disease. Then if an infected nymph or adult tick stays attached more than twenty-four hours to a pet, the disease will be transferred to that pet.
Prevention is definitely the best way to fight fleas and ticks and the problems they can cause to pets. Combs, collars, sprays, shampoos, dips, and powders can be used on pets to rid them of any parasite and keep parasites off them to a certain extent, but the once a month drops placed on the pet’s skin is by far the easiest way to protect pets from both ticks and fleas, stopping any disease transfer so a pet never gets infected. If fleas are a problem in the home, all areas that the pet has been in contact with can be sprayed or bombed with an insecticide with IGR (insect growth regulator) so the life stages of the flea cannot develop. It is best to treat pets all year long whether they are located in warm climates or not, so they will always be protected even if infected indoors. Also protect any indoor cats as well if they are exposed to dogs or cats that go outside.