Author: Karen L. McGlothlin, DVM, PhD
Well, here we are in the middle of July already, and the fleas and ticks are out in full force. You may have noticed this if you’ve spent some time outside this summer, and you may have even observed some of these creepy crawlers hitchhiking on your pets. No matter how great you are at caring for your pets, it is important to realize that they are going to make contact with fleas and ticks while out and about in the world this time of year. If you are not currently providing your pet with protection against these gnarly beasts, it’s a good time to consider looking into doing so for their health’s sake and for your health’s sake.
Fleas and ticks are known to carry diseases that affect your pets, but there are also diseases that may be transmitted directly from flea and tick vectors to you or even transmitted from your pets to you in a process known as zoonotic transmission. You are likely familiar with a list of tick-borne diseases, which include Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, and others. Fleas are vectors for Bartonellosis or cat-scratch disease, which can be spread from cats to humans, as well as tapeworms, plague, and typhus.
In addition to potentially causing disease in your pets, fleas and ticks may also cause distress. Fleas, in large enough infestations, may cause an anemia (low numbers of red blood cells) so severe that it can potentially be fatal. Allergic reaction to flea saliva, which is injected into a pet’s skin when a flea takes a blood meal, may cause intense itching, loss of hair, and secondary skin infection.
Make sure that you check your pet for fleas and ticks every day. Ticks are easier to spot and tend to attach in areas shown below. Fleas are more mobile and tend to hide a bit better than ticks but look for some telltale signs including itching, scratching, and the presence of “flea dirt,” which is actually flea feces and resemble small flecks of dirt peppered in the fur and on the skin. If you notice these flecks on your pet, brush some out of the hair, put it on a paper towel, and add water. Flea dirt will smear red on the paper towel since it is the remnants of a flea’s digested blood meal.
While both fleas and ticks are problematic, fleas tend to become more readily established in your and your pets’ environment and can be notoriously difficult to get under control. A big part of the reason for this is that the adult fleas that you detect on your pet are only the tip of the iceberg. More than 90% of the population will actually be practically invisible to you because they are still in the egg, larval, and pupal stages and serve as reservoirs for future replacements for the adults that you are able to see. For this reason, you may continue to see recurrent adult fleas on your pets, even after you think you have taken care of the problem. If you are seeing adult fleas, realize that you need to treat your pet for those, but you will also likely need to treat the environment to prevent future infestations.
Flea and tick infestations can be difficult to get under control, but the single most effective weapon that you can wield is the consistent administration of an effective flea and tick preventative. It is MUCH easier to prevent fleas and ticks than it is to control them once they have become established. You have a broad range of choices for effective flea and tick prevention, including topical medications, oral medications, collars, and sprays. Just as there are multiple medication choices for different conditions in human medicine, there is no single product that will work for every pet. In order to make the best choice for your pet based on his/her lifestyle and medical history, consult with us at Lawndale Veterinary Hospital for appropriate recommendations.